Air bridge sustains coalition lives, Afghan security
There's a bridge connecting land-locked Afghanistan to America's East Coast. Metaphorically, the bridge has trusses spanning continents. Literally, it's a lifeline to ground combat units, as without that bridge Soldiers would lack vital life-sustaining supplies.
"Life at my combat outpost would be unimaginable without food, water, medicine and ammunition," said Army Sgt. Brandon McCannon, from the 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment scout, deployed to COP Delorean, Baghdis Province. "
The only access we have to any supplies here are the ones that the Air Force drops in," Sergeant McCannon said.
Forward Operating Base Todd is home to U.S. Army 7-10 Soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., and Italian soldiers from the 8th Alpini Regiment, Julia Brigade in Udine, Italy.
All life-sustaining supplies for the 16 combat outposts in Bala Murghab Valley, including COP Delorean, are airdropped into FOB Todd and then delivered by convoy during resupply missions. The majority of the airdrops are U.S. Air Force planes, but Italian and other coalition planes also fly resupply missions.
Nearly every day mobility aircraft are loaded with tons of cargo at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., or Dover Air Force Base, Del., and make long journeys over land and oceans to deliver cargo to large airfields like Bagram, Kandahar or Kabul, or to airdrop supplies to the many remote FOBs across Afghanistan.
Aerial refueling is a key enabler in mobility and in sustaining combat aircraft. In an instance where direct travel becomes necessary, tanker gas allows mobility aircraft to travel from America's Eastern seaboard to Afghanistan without ever touching the ground.
"Combat missions would be severely hampered if there wasn't tanker support," said Capt. Matthew Greenspan, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England.
RAF Mildenhall is the sole Europe-based air wing whose area of operations is more than 20 million square miles, and they support air refueling in that area of operations with 15 assigned KC-135s.
"Tankers allow aircraft to continue flying without having to land to get fuel," Captain Greenspan said.
According to the 618th Air and Space Operations Center public affairs officials, the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the hub for global mobility operations, and tasks and directs a fleet of nearly 1,300 mobility aircraft.
In a nine-month period during 2010, that fleet airdropped more than 40 million pounds of cargo, which, "is as integral to the mission as pushing throttles or being on the flightline," said Brig. Gen. Sam Cox, the 618th AOC (TACC) commander.
Italian army Brig. Gen. Marcello Bellacicco, Afghanistan's Regional Command-West commander said he agrees that America contributes greatly to the supply chain in his region, and he is thankful for the U.S. Air Force's unwavering commitment to the coalition.
"Like the other coalition partners, Italy has soldiers in very remote locations across RC-West," he said. "Coalition aircraft work around the clock to support ground soldiers. Without them, supplies would need to be delivered by land, which would take much more time and unnecessarily put more convoys on the roads."
The Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin C. Conaton said the Air Force's ability to provide global power and global reach does not go unnoticed.
"I think that it's not a surprise that whenever I talk to one of my fellow service counterparts from the other services, they generally begin by saying 'thank you' to the Air Force for everything we're doing -- particularly, for the ground forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan," Secretary Conaton said during an August 2010 visit to Scott Air Force Base.
"Obviously (the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command) is critical in that regard. We couldn't get the people, the materials, the aeromedical and the fuel that's needed in the theater without the important work that is done here at this command," Secretary Conaton said. "So I think the direct support mission is absolutely essential and I think this command is doing it in an excellent way."
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, medical personnel are certain that airdropped supplies are critical to sustaining life.
First Lt. Mark Metzler, an intensive care unit nurse, works with U.S. and Italian soldiers at a field-level clinic at FOB Todd, and said that when Soldiers are wounded in battle, they rely on his medical staff for care.
When a local national is sick and can't receive needed treatment in their community, the same medical staff has often opened their doors to assist.
Between Aug. 14, and the New Year, the clinic at FOB Todd treated three Italian army, nine U.S. military, 28 Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police service members, and 70 local nationals who suffered from a wide array of medical problems, Lieutenant Metzler said. They also treated four enemy combatants in that time period.
In Afghanistan, Soldiers face a serious threat, but stand their ground as one team, and the Air Force plays a major role in that team.
"With a unified face, we can truly demonstrate the capability and power of ISAF," said Italian army Lt. Col. Umberto Salvador, the Task Force-North Civil-Military Cooperation officer. "The villages understand that they do not face one nation, rather a coalition of multiple nations and begin to understand that it is more helpful for them to cooperate with ISAF rather than oppose it."
The security the 16 COPs provide is often called the "BMG Security Bubble" because inside that bubble, security and development occurs at a level higher than what is seen in other areas.
Without food, ammunition, medicine and other supplies, these efforts would be futile. Airdrops support development and progress across Afghanistan.
Bala Murghab is becoming a benchmark of progress here and the Air Force enables that success.
Article by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace, Regional Command-West Public Affairs