09 March 2009

McGuire - Ramstein - Bagram and back: Lifeline to Afghanistan

Ramstein's a busy place these days. Pressure on supply lines moving through Pakistan and the possible closure of Manas in Kyrgyzstan, combined with the planned increase of forces in Afghanistan, have made the delivery of personnel and supplies directly to Bagram by air an increasingly vital link in the supply chain.

The six-day mission of the Sixth Airlift Squadron, 305th Air Mobility Command: Fly from McGuire AFB in New Jersey to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, “an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia,” then head back to Ramstein and, ultimately, home. Along the way, pick up and drop off troops and carry 540,000 pounds of fuel and cargo, including a jet engine for a KC-135 air-refueling tanker and rotor blades for a CH-53 Marine helicopter.

The green and white lights in the C-17 Globemaster’s massive cargo compartment go dark, replaced by the glow from a string of dim red bulbs.

It is 1 a.m., 30,000 feet over Afghanistan. No sense making the plane an easy target against the dark sky.

“Can I have your attention? We are starting our combat entry,” says a voice over a public address system.

Army troops quickly don flak jackets, and Air Force crew members strap on sidearms while the pilots in the armored cockpit put on night-vision goggles to scan the ground for flashes of light that might be gunfire.

Capt. Dave Gaulin of Cherry Hill guides the mammoth $200 million aircraft toward a glowing spot in the clouds, lit by runway lights below.

He and Capts. Chris Zielinski of Center City and James Sprys of Marlton are minutes away from Bagram Air Base, part of a sprawling American military presence in the shadow of the snowcapped Hindu Kush Mountains.

Their plane — flying last week with Army soldiers, Air Force airmen, and tons of supplies — is part of a long lifeline, a kind of Berlin Airlift that sustains the base, the 4,000 airmen at adjacent Camp Cunningham, and other U.S. troops battling the Taliban.

Philly.com has video and some great photos in a slideshow here.

What's that saying again about strategy vs. logistics?

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