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C-130 crew delivers cargo, morale to remote locations

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- When Soldiers, Sailors or Marines need something moved, C-130 Hercules crews here answer the call, and recently, that request took one 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron crew to Africa and beyond.

Their cargo ranged from helicopter rotors to medical supplies to personal mail. Their mission was to deliver this cargo to Airmen and other service members stationed in Djibouti and the Seychelles, a string of islands in the Indian Ocean.

“A C-130 can deliver 60 armed troops to the battlefield and then keep them supplied over and over again,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Branby, the crew’s navigator. “It’s a diverse mission, and it takes us around the globe to fill a variety of needs that are always different and changing.”

The C-130’s diversity and reliance was critical in making this Horn of Africa mission successful.

“The remoteness of the locations means this airlift is practically the only way these outposts are being supplied,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Albrecht, the crew’s flight engineer. “The mail, coupled with the other supplies we carry, keeps up morale; that in turn helps those on the front lines of the war on terror do their jobs better.”

Although this crew has already completed two previous deployments together, this mission was unique.

“The Horn of Africa missions are just as important as (those in) any other theater we supply airlift to,” said Maj. Thomas Huzzard, the pilot and mission commander. “But most of the HOA locations are very remote, so that makes every airlift mission there important.”

From start to finish, this transcontinental mission tested the crew’s abilities. With limited communications, flying missions in the region can be a turbulent experience. But it was not anything the crew could not handle.

“The communication and control of air traffic in that part of the world is marginal at best,” Chief Albrecht said. “So it was important that we all paid attention to the directions we were given and backed each other up.”

After arriving in Djibouti and unloading cargo, the crew began preparing for the next day’s mission. At 4 a.m., everyone was at the aircraft ready for the six-plus-hour flight to the Seychelles Islands, where they would trade the wartime living conditions of Djibouti for tropical ones.

“The airlift mission is full of such gems; you never know where you might end up, so you have to be ready for anything. Sometimes it’s an unexpected treasure, like our night in Seychelles. But sometimes it’s spending the night in a makeshift (shelter) in Uzbekistan. It all comes with the mission,” Colonel Branby said.

The crew was also able to take satisfaction in helping their fellow service members. Among their cargo pallets for the return flight to Djibouti that day were a group of Sailors who had been trying desperately for days to get to Bahrain for their flight home, Major Huzzard said.

“We understand the importance of the flight to those men and women serving on the front lines,” he said. “Is it good for morale for us to be on time? Watch their faces as they load up for that flight and the answer is obvious.”

After their 16-hour day on the return trip back here, the crew was satisfied with the mission and their role in bringing their fight to the enemy.

“It all goes back to the concept of doing it as a job or doing it because it’s a calling,” Colonel Branby said. “In the Guard and Reserve, just like the active-duty, you do it because you want to be there, supporting the country. It’s a very rewarding concept.”

The 911th Airlift Wing Reservists from Pittsburgh have a combined flying time of more than 15,000 hours in the air, which is not easy to do when you have another full-time job at home.

Other crewmembers are 1st Lt. Bradley Ayer, co-pilot; Chief Master Sgt. David McNees, loadmaster; and Master Sgt. Thomas Marhulik, loadmaster.

Major Huzzard is a commercial airline pilot; Colonel Branby is a flight crew training instructor for a commercial airline; Chief Albrecht is a Federal Aviation Administration aviation safety inspector; and Chief McNees and Sergeant Marhulik are Air Reserve Technicians. Lieutenant Ayer is a recent training graduate and the newest member of the crew.

But the experiences they gain during the work week make them comfortable in their military jobs and give them an added advantage over their active-duty counterparts.

“(The 911 AW) is a small unit with very little turnover. There are no permanent-change-of-station moves every three years,” Major Huzzard said. “So in that sense, there’s an advantage (to being reservists). We know each others’ habits and tendencies, and that can be quite useful for this type of flying.”

And being an experienced crew only adds to that advantage.

“Many young crews get thrown together and have an adjustment period where they develop the synergy that makes an aircrew into a true team,” Colonel Branby said. “Having all the flying experience and previous time together allows us to jump right into the mix and pick up where we left off.”