HAWAII AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO
Two Australian soldiers, left, met with a C-17 Globemaster cargo jet loadmaster in front of three armored personnel carriers being transported to Afghanistan last month.
Hickam jet flies first missions
The Hawaii crews take equipment and troops to Afghanistan
The first Hawaii-based C-17 Globemaster jet flew combat missions last month into Afghanistan, carrying coalition aircraft, vehicles and soldiers. The nearly year-old Globemaster cargo jet left Hickam in late August with two air crews composed of four members of the Hawaii Air National Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron and 10 from the active Air Force's 535th Airlift Squadron.
Capt. Paul Theriot, who has been flying with the Air Force for eight years, was the aircraft commander for one of the air crews. The other was led by Air Force Capt. Brian Henkin.
The Hickam C-17 Hawaii Air Guard and active Air Force Globemaster team worked out of Diego Garcia, a British air base built on a narrow tropical jungle reef in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles south of India.
Lt. Col. Milt Davis, who has been flying with the Hawaii Air Guard since 1997, said Diego Garcia was an ideal place to stage for missions into Afghanistan because larger C-5 cargo jets could fly soldiers, aircraft, vehicles and other equipment to the island, where they would be transferred to C-17 transport jets.
The four missions the two Hickam air crews flew included trips to Darwin and Townsville on the northeastern tip of Australia to pick up International Security Assistance Force soldiers and vehicles and transport them to Afghanistan.
It took 6 1/2 hours to fly from Diego Garcia to Afghanistan, a distance of nearly 3,200 miles, said Davis, 44.
Theriot, 30, likened it to flying nonstop from the West Coast to the East Coast on the mainland.
On one of the missions, the Hickam Hawaii Air Guard and Air Force crews transported a 28,000-pound Australian army CH-47 Chinook helicopter and 10 soldiers to Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan.
From Kandahar, the Hickam air crews flew vehicles and other supplies to a small coalition base in southern Afghanistan, landing on a short, 6,000-foot dirt runway. The Hickam crew made three flights to that remote location.
Each time, the air crews were constantly on the lookout for ground-to-air missiles as well as attacks by insurgents armed with rifles. "The threat was always there," added Davis, who in civilian life flies for Aloha Airlines.
There also were physical adversities.
"It (the landing strip) was in the middle of the desert," said Davis, a veteran of the 1991 Desert Storm war. "It was hard to distinguish the runway from the orange-colored desert."
Theriot, 30, added that "the whole area looked like a moonscape. It is very bleak."
"It was hard to see the barrels marking the runway until you were right over it."
Once on the ground, Davis said, the pilots always "kept the plane's four jet engines running. If anything went wrong, we could immediately take off."
Theriot said the Globemaster cargo jet was only on the dirt field for 22 minutes.
Davis added that there were hills surrounding the airfield, which complicated takeoffs and landings.
Theriot said his job of piloting the 174-foot cargo jet was helped by the fact that he had surveyed the same airfield in April 2005.
"At that time," Theriot added, "it was used only by C-130 and smaller cargo planes. Although engineers had expanded the length and width using graders, it is still a dirt strip."
Davis said the flights were perfect examples of what the Air Force describes as "direct delivery" missions.
"That's what the C-17 was designed for," he said. "It lived up to what it is supposed to do and go directly to the user's needs, saving time and maybe lives."
"We probably could have done it directly from Hawaii utilizing mid-air refueling," Theriot added.
Both Davis and Theriot said the Afghan mission continues to validate the unique partnership between the active Air Force and the Air National Guard, the first in the country. The eight C-17s replaced the five C-130 Hercules cargo planes that were maintained and flown by the Hawaii Air National Guard since 1984.