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KC-10s move fighters to Afghanistan

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Two Travis Air Force Base, California, KC-10 Extenders from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron and 79th ARS participated Oct. 19-30 in an En-route Support Trailing Aircraft mission that followed the Coronet East mission.

The Coronet, which is a movement of fighter aircraft from one theater to another with the escort of tanker aircraft, helped move F-16 Fighting Falcons from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Adding the ESTA mission required the KC-10s to carry the support equipment and personnel for the deployment of the fighter aircraft as opposed to only escorting aircraft in a standard Coronet mission.

“We delivered 61,000 pounds of cargo and nine passengers to Bagram in support of the 20th Fighter Wing’s deployment,” said Capt. Ross Jardis, 60th Operations Group executive officer and aircraft commander for the mission. “This mission is not typically performed by KC-10s, so it had a bit of a different feel to it.”

The mission proved challenging and more complex than the pilots were used to, said Capt. Allison Ohlinger, 9th ARS KC-10 pilot.

“The airfields we landed in, as well as some adverse weather along the way, made the mission even more challenging,” said Ohlinger. “KC-10s don’t typically land at Bagram, though we routinely fly through Afghanistan’s airspace on refueling missions while deployed.  The field itself is extremely busy and the terrain surrounding the base makes the arrival and departures into Bagram even more difficult.”

Despite the difficulties, the crew’s teamwork was key to the success of the mission.

“In the flying world, we constantly talk about Crew Resource Management, but this was a mission where CRM was especially vital,” said Ohlinger. “For instance, because the airspace into Bagram is extremely busy, as the co-pilot I had to focus primarily on radio communications, while at the same time coordinating with the (flight) engineer to ensure that we were able to complete checklists and prepare the jet to land safely.”

During that time, Jardis was busy ensuring a safe landing at Bagram. This meant keeping communications with outside agencies prompt, concise and correct, said Ohlinger.

“Besides making sure that checklists were complete and the jet was in a safe configuration to land, the (flight) engineer also served as a lookout for threats and backed me up on radio communications,” said Ohlinger. “We also relied on the boom operators for both the well-being of the passengers and the cargo. One of our boom operators also served as a safety observer on the flight deck and kept a lookout for threats on the ground with the (flight) engineer on our approach into Afghanistan.”

The unique mission was a first for Jardis and Ohlinger, as KC-10s are not usually scheduled for cargo missions to Afghanistan.

“This was a very unique mission for the KC-10s,” said Ohlinger. “I came from C-130 (Hercules) where flying cargo was our bread and butter, but for a KC-10, being a part of an ESTA mission was very exciting.”