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Airmen join Soldiers taking Kenya military to new heights

NAIROBI, Kenya -- As the sun rose June 6, seven Airmen wearing desert flightsuits stood outside the guarded entrance to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport waiting for their passengers.

The Air Force Reserve Command C-130 Hercules crew was handpicked to take several dozen Kenyan army special operations forces’ paratroopers on their first airdrop in nearly three years. Deployed to Southwest Asia, the reservists are from the 440th Airlift Wing at General Mitchell International Airport Air Reserve Station, Wis.

“Because of the ... war on terrorism, the Kenyans haven’t had access to a cargo plane in quite some time,” said Maj. Keith Wesley, aircraft commander.
While the airport ground crew fueled the C-130, U.S. and Kenyan troops prepared for the first of their 14 drops over the next three days.

The Air Force was just the latest American military branch to help the Kenyans achieve their training goal. Army special operations forces had been on the ground and in the Kenyans’ classroom for a month before the C-130 arrival.

They were finally ready, but takeoff was delayed for close to an hour because of preflight preparation as well as the late arrival of a Kenyan soldier.
Before leaving the helicopter that brought him in, the uniform-clad passenger was familiar by position, if not by name, to Lt. Col. Bob Berman, a C-130 mission officer in charge.

“I’m betting this is the army general coming in to talk to his troops,” Colonel Berman surmised.

Talk, no. Grab a ‘chute, yes.

“I saw real leadership today, watching the general be the first Kenyan leading his troops off the ramp,” said Capt. Brad James, mission co-pilot who flew the second plane full of paratroopers later that morning.

As the C-130 raced over the African terrain, a team was at the drop zone contending with a last-minute obstacle. They were clearing away myriad local four-legged inhabitants, among them lions, tigers and zebras.

“It’s like jumping into a zoo,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ray, a paratrooper and medic.

The “10-minute warning” soon became “two minutes to the zone.” In the cargo compartment stood American and Kenyan forces eager to practice what the U.S. Army had preached in the classroom.

Soon enough the signal for 30 seconds was given. Then, faster than it seemed,the “five-second warning” motivated the 12 chute-wearing warriors to take a deep breath before plunging 1,250 feet.

One large leap for Kenyan paratroopers, one larger leap in the fight against instability and terrorism for the region, Major Wesley said.

Then he turned the Hercules to the left and circled around for the next wave of Kenyan sky jumpers.

In all, more than 140 paratroopers jumped from the aircraft.