by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
7/5/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Mortar explosions rattle a forward operating base in Afghanistan and it’s all service members hear as they rush for cover. Gradually, the dust settles and in the distance a fleeing U.S. convoy is spotted. The FOB’s gates open just long enough for the crew to find safety in the base’s heavily fortified walls. Moments later, bullets seem to spray from everywhere.
A week earlier, ammunition, supplies, tools, food and water were airdropped by an 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron cargo jet. Equipped with these provisions, these service members have what they need to survive.
“Cargo is the life blood of down-range soldiers,” said Tech. Sgt. David Young, the 8th EAMS Air Mobility Control Center flight chief deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. “More than 50 percent of the [U.S. Central Command’s area of operation] AOR’s air drops originate from here, making what we do significantly important. We’re not flying supplies to just the big, established bases; we also fly to the really forward deployed guys at FOBs way out in the middle of nowhere. The supplies we provide them are their lifeline.”
More commonly known as, “The Mighty Ocho,” the 8th EAMS coordinates, loads and maintains the aircraft responsible for delivering these life-saving supplies to the joint war fighter down range.
“Air Mobility Command sends us cargo missions, and as the AOR’s central hub, we coordinate when these jets will land, where they’ll park, how the cargo will get to the aircraft and how its loaded, the fuel, the maintenance, aircrew rest — all this we do to get a quick turn on the jet’s mission and on its way to the folks who need it most,” Young said.
“Our cargo missions really remind me of why we’re here,” added Staff Sgt. Ryan Metz, the 8th EAMS training NCO in charge deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. “It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.”
In a section of five, working 24/7, 365 days a year, Young and his crew have at least two members on shift at any given time working as the “Ocho’s” nervous system.
“Leadership puts down instructions on how they want to run things,” explained Young. “We funnel that out to the ‘body parts’ — such as maintenance and the air terminal operations center and they commence the mission and giving us feedback whether the mission went off fine or if it had problems along the way.”
AMCC Airmen then take that information and route it up to leadership who then decide how the processes can be improved so the mission runs smoother for next time.
“Our mission is really vital,” Young said. There’s a reason we haven’t consolidated with the wing command post here, because AMC wants to have a specific command and control node monitoring all their missions, able to give them real-time feedback as it all plays out. That’s where we come in.”
Contrary to home station operations, Young said there are a lot more on the fly changes in the deployed environment he just doesn’t see back home. Between opportune cargo movements, aeromedical evacuation missions, dignified transfer and human remains missions that come up in the AOR, AMCC Airmen have their plates full.
“These things come up a lot more often than they would at home station — so they [AMC] need someone to manage these changes on the fly and they do that through us,” he said.
Having their paws in every aspect of 8th EAMS’s mission, it’s not surprising to see why Young is so passionate about his job.
“Without the C2 [command and control] node, the unit loses their centralized execution of the mission,” he said.
Another way C2 supports joint warfighters down range is by saving the defense department money, especially during this time of budget cuts and sequestration.
“The way we can help, particularly, is to look for things where we can make the mission more efficient,” Young said. “We can save on the small issues that would cause crews to exceed their crew duty day then the whole mission has to stop while they rest overnight. That 12-18 hours we lose there is significant.”
For service members down range, especially at some more rustic FOBs, this delay could mean the difference between winning and losing a firefight.
“If we can manipulate the mission based on our relationship with the different stations we work with and knowing their limitations, such as differing quiet hours, we can make sure we get them [cargo jets] out of here in a timely manner to hit their marks,” said Young.
The 8th EAMS moves most of their cargo by means of C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-5 Galaxys, but Young said they do make use of other airframes, including the KC-135 Stratotanker and personnel rotators.
“If a plane comes in here empty, it’s not leaving here empty,” he said chalking this feat up to his partner agencies within the “The Mighty Ocho,” including the air terminal operations center, MOC, and several others.
[Editor’s note: The narrative story lead does not reflect actual events. This article is part one of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]