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Missouri Guard Airmen tell of increased airlift over Afghanistan

ST JOSEPH, Mo. (5/1/11) -- Missouri Air National Guard members here today announced that the pace of recent C-130 Hercules airlift in Afghanistan top any overseas contingency operations they ever experienced.

"It's what we're doing as far as the pace, the missions and the actual work load," said Lt. Col. David Halter, commander of the Missouri Air Guard's 180th Airlift Squadron, 139th Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base here. Halter said that pace shows no sign of slowing down.

Halter should know. He spent two deployments serving as commander for the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. The Air Guard-led, total Air Force squadron provides the bulk of C-130 airlift at Bagram Air Base. Their recent 6,722 sorties from Bagram, they believe, exceed any accomplished by the squadron in four-month's time.

"We're doing the most demanding flying there that we ever do," said Halter. "Afghanistan is very austere, with mountainous terrain, and most of our landings are on short landing zones using NVGs [night vision goggles]," he said. Halter explained that the Missouri Air Guard's recent deployment was the busiest he ever experienced.

The 139th Airlift Wing joined with the Kentucky Air Guard as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen to form the squadron. The National Guard's C-130 airlift wings and aircraft take turns leading the airlift operation, through the Air Expeditionary Force cycle. Not only has the paced increased. Halter said the number of airfields and landing zones as well as the number of airdrops "greatly expanded."

In a one-month time frame, last fall, expeditionary squadron Airmen delivered nearly 1.9 million pounds of supplies through 99 air drops.

"As near as we can figure out, that's probably a record for the 774th," said Halter.

In addition, they airlifted more than 87,000 passengers, aeromedical patients and distinguished visitors from September to December, as well as offloaded more than 25,000 tons of supplies. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of those airlifts, it also took tools and technicians to keep the C-130's constantly in the air. The Air Guard's maintainers are operating at Bagram for a maddening pace on the flight line too, said Halter. They boast mission capability rates reaching 99 percent.

"That's extremely high," said Halter. "One of the reasons is that our Guard maintenance folks have a vast amount of experience in keeping our airplanes up to speed and running."

Halter said aircrews and maintainers are serving more to match these escalating missions, in living conditions that remain austere.

"We have folks that continue to step up and volunteer to go, some stay with the units coming up behind us, or some come home to deploy back with another unit. But I think this is what they want to do [be operational] this is what they signed up for," said Halter.