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Legend has it, "mules" can fly

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Daniel Nathaniel
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
Mission: deliver cargo and troops into an austere and possibly hostile location via an improved airstrip approximately 3,000 feet long and 60 feet wide.

Who would dare accept such an assignment? The Reserve Airmen of the 815th Airlift Squadron, "The Flying Jennies," a tactical airlift unit with the 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., are among those who volunteer.

The 815th AS traces its lineage to the days of World War II where it originated as the 815th Bombardment Squadron flying B-17 missions over Italy, France and Germany. They continue this legacy today in support of overseas operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.

According to squadron legend, the nickname and insignia, a mule running within the clouds, derive from a time when the 815th actually transported mules or "jennies" on a mission. Whether true or not it is an apt symbol as they are the flying pack mules of the sky; ferrying people, cargo and fuel into and out of places where conventional transportation cannot or will not go.

Their can-do attitude motivated them during their most recent deployment in Southwest Asia to drop nearly five tons of cargo during a four-month period with Airmen working missions 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

The ability to accomplish such a high rate of success is attributed not only to the Airmen's attitude, but the aircraft in which they fly; the "workhorse" of the Flying Jennies, the C-130J-30 "Super Hercules." One thing which makes this aircraft "Super" over the standard Hercules model is an extra 30 feet in length, which provides room for an additional two pallets of cargo.

Within the same deployment, which wrapped in January, the Flying Jennies flew 294 missions with only one canceled due to maintenance resulting in a 98 percent reliability rate for aircraft maintenance and operations.

"In four months, while deployed, we flew more hours there than we fly at home station in a year," said Lt. Col. Keith Gibson, 815th AS chief of training.

Additionally, the "Super Hercules" crews train to use the Joint Precision Air Drop System, which combines steerable parachutes and an on-board computer for more precise delivery of cargo.

This system allows the C-130J-30 to complete drops from higher altitudes than previously capable, said Tech. Sgt. David Pirie, 815th AS loadmaster. "It is very accurate, instead of having to fly directly over the designated drop zone, the cargo can guide itself where needed."

Often in coordination with the Army, the Flying Jennies have landed missions to resupply remote, inaccessible locations if possible; dropping paratroopers and pallets if not.

"The big reason we air drop as much as we do is to keep the Army convoys off of the roads due to IEDs," said Colonel Gibson. "As the threat in an area, especially at some of these small forward operating bases, goes up, we drop more."

Weather and remote locations may also dictate the need for airdrops, said Sergeant Pirie. "In Afghanistan, when it's wintertime there might not be a way to drive a vehicle into an area."

Recently, as part of the Air Force's total force integration initiative, the 345th Airlift Squadron was officially reactivated as an active associate unit to the 403rd Wing. This partnering provides both the active-duty members and Reservists with the opportunity to work and train together, as well as reduce operational costs.

"When we deploy we are integrated with the active duty," said Lt. Col. Scot Salminen, 815th AS director of operations. "With the addition of the 345th AS as an active associate unit we are able to train the way we will fight."

In addition to this new resource, the 815th AS is always looking for new people to take up the challenge.

"I would like the local community to know that they also have an opportunity to join the Reserve and be part of a unit like this," said Colonel Gibson. "Flying with the 815th, Flying Jennies, is something that is possible for them."

"It's a great place to work," said Sergeant Pirie. "Really awesome."

You can follow the 815th Airlift Squadron on Facebook, to become a fan just search for "Flying Jennies" and hit the "like" button. To join, contact your local Air Force Reserve recruiter for more information.