KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
You never know what curveballs life and, in particular, the Air Force are going to throw at you. In October 2015, I was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base flying a standard Friday afternoon student sortie as a C-130J schoolhouse instructor. As soon as we landed I received a message to call my operations group commander…which isn’t usually good news.
However, that phone call set off a whirlwind of events wherein two weeks later I’d been hired as the commander of the 815th Airlift Squadron and three months after that was living in Biloxi, Mississippi, having my new ops group commander hand me the squadron’s guidon.
That was only the beginning of this adventure.
The 815th Airlift Squadron’s exceptional recent history includes being the very first C-130J unit in the Air Force and completed five deployments to Southwest Asia between 2004 and 2014. During those deployments they set numerous combat records, notably the most airdrops in a single month -- 82.
Even more recently, the unit was reeling from more than two years of uncertainty about the future. During this period of time, it looked as if the Air Force would move the squadron and its aircraft elsewhere, but Congress ultimately decided to keep the unit in the 403rd Wing. This period of uncertainty led to where we were one year ago.
When I arrived, I immediately realized that those who had stuck with the 815th through all of the turmoil were an outstanding group of professionals. From day one we began executing a plan to requalify the squadron and rebuild each office and their associated processes. At the same time, we were looking around the country for individuals we wanted to add to our team. Our manning has since grown considerably with even more aircrew members coming to us in the next few months. Those who are in the unit have worked tirelessly and I am constantly blown away by the commitment that the Flying Jennies have made to the effort of regenerating this unit. All of this work has ultimately led to the 815th stepping back in line to deploy in 2018. That’s an entire year earlier than Lt. Gen. James Jackson, the former Chief of Air Force Reserve, promised Congress.
As an active duty member, I am constantly learning about the nuances of the Air Force Reserve, which I’ve equated to a foreign language. One such lesson that sticks out is when our deployment was officially on the books and the squadron leadership began building the path to our departure date. While, in my mind, we had plenty of time to prepare for the deployment, my director of operations provided me with a reality check. In the world of unit training assemblies, we could only rely on two training days per month. Wow! But this shock was shortly replaced with confidence as the squadron began to build a training plan to make our tasking a reality.
So, you might be wondering, “What are the 815th’s plans to prepare for a deployment in 2018 since much of the squadron hasn’t deployed in many years, and the rest may not have deployed at all?”
We will continue to conduct flying training locally and at Pope Field, North Carolina. These missions are designed to improve our skills in the many unique combat airlift and airdrop missions we’ll be asked to fly in the area of responsibility. Additionally, the 815th will participate in training around the country throughout the year. We will get our most realistic deployment assessment by joining the 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and members from numerous other 403rd Wing units in taking part in a Joint Readiness Training Center exercise at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. We’ll transport an Army division to Louisiana, via two weeks of simulated combat airdrop and air-land missions.
This will test the wing’s ability to deploy our airlift team and provide us with realistic lessons that we can build upon for the remainder of the year. Then, 815th crews will train at the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they will improve their skills in low-level mountain flying, night vision goggle use in hostile environments, and defeating enemy ground threats, all while flying realistic combat airdrop sorties. This is followed by a trip to the Advanced Mountain Airlift Tactics School in Reno, Nevada, to master the challenges of flying and airdropping troops and equipment in a challenging mountainous environment.
In addition to this training in the U.S., Flying Jenny tails will be travelling all around the world to provide our aircrew with irreplaceable worldwide experience. We will have multiple crews on call in support of CORONET OAK, which is a continuing operation to provide theater airlift support in Central and South America since 1977.
Then, the 815th has, again, been asked to take part in the D-Day Memorial activities in Normandy, France. This event is awe inspiring, to say the least, and gives our crews the opportunity to airdrop paratroopers into the same drop zone that our combat airlift predecessors did in the night before D-Day. I’m ecstatic to have our squadron take part in such an important historic event once again.
Later this year, we will take part in the Pacific Air Rally in Malaysia where our crews will promote partnership-building and advance military airlift interoperability with the nations of the Pacific Rim.
Finally, we are working with International Affairs representatives at the Pentagon to build a partnership with a British C-130J squadron and facilitate an ongoing interfly agreement whereby we would alternate training with each other in England and Mississippi on an annual basis.
The 815th Airlift Squadron has set lofty goals that will, no doubt, be a challenge to achieve and will ultimately take a strong investment from every single member of the squadron. I am continually blown away by the passion and dedication of the Flying Jennies and have absolute confidence we will not only achieve, but surpass these goals. It is an extremely exciting time to be a Flying Jenny, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else right now.
Day by day, we get better and better.