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Airmen and Marines support Afghanistan retrograde
Airmen from the 9th Airlift Squadron and 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron with Marines from the Marine Expeditionary Brigade load vehicles into a C-5M Super Galaxy Oct. 6, 2014, at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Airmen and Marines loaded more than 266,000 pounds of cargo onto the C-5M as part of retrograde operations in Afghanistan. During this mission, the crew reached more than 11 million pounds of cargo transported in a 50-day period. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)
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18th AF goes big on retrograde operations

Posted 10/24/2014   Updated 10/24/2014 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
18th Air Force Public Affairs

10/24/2014 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- As part of the continuing retrograde operations in Afghanistan, 18th Air Force has begun using C-5M Super Galaxies to move equipment out of the war zone.

The C-5M is a strategic airlifter that is not typically used in a tactical role.

The use of the C-5M in Afghanistan is an innovative use of a non-traditional tool to solve what is really a mathematical problem. The Air Force only has so many C-17s to carry cargo out of Afghanistan, only so much time to do it in, and competing demands on its capabilities. Using C-5Ms can relieve some of the demands on the C-17 force which has seen increased taskings as a result of Operations Inherent Resolve and United Assistance.

"We had oversized cargo in theater that needed to move to a staging base, but the volume was such that the C-17s were having trouble keeping up," said Maj. Francisco Flores, 618th Air Operations Center Theater Direct Delivery division. "When you add the competing demands on the C-17s, retrograde started to fall behind."

On paper, the idea to use C-5Ms makes sense. If a C-17 that can carry one Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle  is good, a C-5M that can carry five is better, but using a strategic airlifter in a tactical role comes with its own set of challenges that had to be overcome. Among them, Flores said, is looking beyond a C-17 mindset.

"Theater Direct Delivery, by nature, is a tactical division," Flores explained. "The C-17 is the standard. We hadn't executed the C-5 mission before. So we had to adjust the planning mindset."

Part of that adjustment meant reaching out to the logistics personnel in Afghanistan and telling them about the aircraft's capabilities. The result was a C-5M mission breaking a max cargo weight record, lifting off from Afghanistan carrying more than 280,000 pounds, the equivalent of about 11 school buses.

"With the C-5M," Flores said, "We ran out of room in the aircraft before we reached the max weight."

Education on the C-5's capabilities was not the only challenge. Using a strategic airlifter, designed for long, transcontinental flights and pushing it into a tactical airlifter's role can create stresses the aircraft was not designed for.

"Using it tactically means a shorter cycle," said SMSgt. William March, Air Mobility Command Logistic Operations logistics management specialist. "Components are being used more frequently than they would be on a longer transoceanic flight."

Designed to fly one long eight-to-10 hour flight per day, these C-5Ms are flying three short flights per day into expeditionary air bases. That's three times the stress on components such as the landing gear.

"We've never seen a C-5 used like this," March added.

March's division looked ahead and prepared for any maintenance and logistics contingency that could develop from the unorthodox use of the C-5M.

"We made sure we had the right mix of personnel and equipment at these air bases and made sure they had more of it," March said. "And we're always looking for ways to improve the process."

The C-5Ms are doing well in their new role as tactical airlifters. Since the mission began in August, C-5Ms crews have flown more than 70 sorties out of Afghanistan, carrying 381 vehicles and more than 460 other pieces of equipment.

"It's proven to be a workhorse," Flores said. "It does the job very well. It moves a large amount of cargo in a short amount of time."

"We have changed the face of airlift," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Diaz, 385th Air Expeditionary Group Detachment 1 commander. "In the past 50 days, we've been able to fly more than 70 missions moving more than 12 million pounds of cargo, well exceeding expectations."

Lt. Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, 18th Air Force commander, said using the C-5M to take demands off the C-17 fleet is a reflection of the command's ability to innovate in order to solve mobility problems.

"This is what innovative Airmen look like," he said. "These crews and aircraft are proving themselves every day."

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