ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE | Although the sun isn’t set to rise for at least another hour, Airmen are already out on the flight line, gearing-up to get the job done. Bundled in their winter gear, they watch as a C-5M Super Galaxy — a physics defying aerial leviathan — glides to the ground and taxis on the runway at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
As the C-5 comes to a stop, Airmen from the 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s deployment and distribution flight wait for the ramp to drop and prepare to empty the aircraft.
Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, four C-5s and three Boeing 747s flew in with more than 500,000 pounds of cargo. This marked the return of equipment and supplies, some of which has been at Andersen AFB, Guam, since 2016. These assets were used during a historic deployment of more than 350 Airmen and six B-1s in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission.
With the recent deployment, extensive materials were needed overseas to keep B-1s in the sky to deter U.S. adversaries. The 28th LRS had to ensure these assets were transported from Andersen AFB and then returned to their units at Ellsworth AFB.
“Our main objective is to deploy the 28th Bomb Wing,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Jones, the 28th LRS section chief of the small air terminal. “We train all units on base to prepare their cargo to be shipped. We then inspect the cargo and make a load plan for the loadmaster so the aircraft can take off safely.”
The squadron’s job goes beyond moving equipment. The deployment and distribution flight also has to fill passenger planes with special cargo — the men and women of the 28th BW, deploying around the world.
“We do everything from large 300-plus-person deployments to sending out one and two Airmen at a time,” said 1st Lt. Rahal Belkalai, the officer in charge of deployments. “Not only that, but we work with our counterparts to bring our people and cargo back. There is always a time crunch with any deployment and it’s our responsibility to make sure it happens.”
Though the logistics Airmen work quickly to meet their deadlines, they are also keen to keep safety in mind. With the recent redeployment taking place during some of the colder months at Ellsworth AFB, weather became an important factor to prepare for.
“Winter weather was a big factor,” Jones explained. “[We were] downloading aircraft in subzero temperatures with 30 mph winds, blowing snow, and rain that turned to sleet, then to a thin layer of ice on the parking apron.
“We had planes coming in early in the morning and late at night,” Jones added. “With only five individuals assigned to my office it’s hard to work a 24-hour shift because of the flight times.”
The deployment and distribution flight ensured they would be ready for the aircraft and cargo. They prepared in several ways by giving weather briefings prior to any action on the flight line and requiring Airmen to bring extra cold weather gear. The planes arrived at varying times of the day and night, so long hours were required to download the supplies. To avoid any potential danger the team also received additional safety instructions.
Because of their role in the recent deployment to Guam, the deployment and distribution flight learned about more about their current capabilities and discovered new ways they’d like to develop professionally. Jones plans on leveraging his team’s new experience to the fullest extent.
“We were able to streamline our process,” Jones said. “We were able to cut some of the steps we don’t need to do and add ones we do. We were able to receive such a large quantity of redeploying assets, which showed us our capabilities. I think it makes us better as a team and a unit, so when we do get another similar-sized shipment, we can handle it more efficiently.”
Coordinating aspects of a large deployment has its challenges, but according to the Airmen of the 28th LRS, it is worth the time, energy and planning that goes into ensuring mission success. Due to their efforts, Ellsworth AFB Airmen were able to fully support U.S. PACOM’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission.
During the deployment, the 37th Bomb Squadron demonstrated the U.S.’s continuing commitment to support the Indo-Asia-Pacific regional stability and security. The 37th BS also flew a sortie over the Northern Limit Line for the first time in over 20 years, making this deployment truly notable.
“Being a part of this deployment felt awesome,” Jones said. “Knowing that we can move our bombers and put them anywhere in the world at any time to defend our freedom and the freedom of other nations, it gives us a big sense of accomplishment. I was glad to be a part of it.”