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817th EAS keeps crews flying

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- A "C-17 one-stop combat ops shop" accurately depicts the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany.

Members deployed from the 17th Airlift Squadron here provide every service needed for C-17 aircrews from Charleston AFB and McChord AFB, Wash., as well as C-141 and C-5 aircrews flying through Germany.

"We are the C-17 combat operations unit," said 1st Lt. Scott Huffstetler, 817th EAS tactician. "C-17s from Charleston and McChord end up here. At that point, we are in charge of all missions that leave from Rhein-Main and Ramstein [AB, Germany].

"We also provide tactics briefings and planning services to other airlift and tanker aircraft operating through Rhein-Main, such as the C-5s and C-141s," Lieutenant Huffstetler said.

The 817th EAS is responsible for funneling all airlift cargo and materials between the United States and both the Iraqi and Afghanistan areas of operations. Once they arrive in Germany, C-17 crews are directed either eastbound to Afghanistan or Southwest Asia, or westbound back to the United States.

"When an aircrew gets here, we take into account their experience and flying time for the last month, and look at the missions in the next 24 to 48 hours," said Capt. Scott Anderson, 817th EAS current operations chief. "Then we match the crews with the appropriate missions. The crew may come here and go right back westbound."

Once a C-17 crew arrives at Rhein-Main, they drop off the gear they won't need for the night at a storage location and walk across the ramp to a building most crews call "the Stage." However, calling the 817th EAS a "stage" is inaccurate.

"The 817th EAS is a deployed squadron," said Captain Anderson. "We give more support and involvement to the missions going into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan than a typical stage location would."

Aside from simply scheduling C-17 flights, the 817th EAS houses several other components vital to planning and executing combat airlift missions.

"Our job in Intel is to keep the commander, the staff, and all of our crews abreast of the situation downrange and in the local area," said Senior Master Sgt. Tony Levine, a 315th Operations Support Squadron intelligence reservist deployed as the intelligence superintendent for the 817th EAS. "We keep them aware of what the enemy is doing around the airfields we are operating into, what techniques and tactics they are using, and what kind of weapons they have. We give them the big picture so they can arrive and depart safely."

Along with the intelligence briefing the entire crew receives, the pilots receive a briefing from one of the tacticians to ensure they are thoroughly aware of the most appropriate tactics to employ to mitigate mission risk and ensure a safe flight.

"We want to make sure the crews know what tactics will work best and how they are going to get into and out of the threat area safely," said Lieutenant Huffstetler.

The 817th EAS also provides the C-17 crews with everything from lodging assignments to vehicles and cell phones.

The numerous tasks keep EAS personnel busy.

Members of the 817th EAS work 12-hour shifts nearly every day, and when they are not working, they are usually flying. "There's not a lot of time off, but we came here to work," said Captain Anderson.