Retrograde in full gear

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- As the retrograde mission of transporting equipment and personnel out of Afghanistan continues, Dover AFB personnel are hard at work ensuring the job is done safely, on time, and as efficiently as possible.

From both the 436th and 512th Airlift Wings, Dover AFB has approximately 150 operations, maintenance, and support personnel deployed at any given time supporting retrograde. And the Dover AFB C-5M Super Galaxies from the both 9th and 709th Airlift Squadrons as well as the C-17 Globemaster III's from both the 3rd and 326th Airlift Squadrons are performing optimally, allowing for larger cargo loads and fewer sorties to transport those loads.

"We're now seeing the true potential of the C-5M," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Diaz, 9th AS director of operations, who recently returned home from a deployment serving as the 386th Air Expeditionary Group, Detachment 1 commander. "The greatest benefit to using this airframe is the economy of size.

"Not only can we carry bigger cargo loads and heavy rolling stock equipment like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, but we can save up to five C-17 missions, allowing both for space on the airfield and the freedom for those airframes to complete other operations," said Diaz.

With 36 pallet positions, and the ability to carry over 280,000 pounds of cargo, the primary role of the C-5M is to get personnel and equipment back to combatant commanders for use in future engagements. For the retrograde mission, that means transporting what is commonly referred to as out-sized cargo, or extremely heavy rolling stock, such as vehicles.

In the month of October, crews from both the 9th AS and 709th AS along with crews from Travis AFB, California's 22nd Airlift Squadron contributed to the success of the C-5M retrograde mission, flying 117 sorties, 393.2 flight hours, transporting 148 passengers, carrying 286 pallets and 283 units of rolling stock for a total of 11.3 million pounds of cargo.

"We've broken several records," said Diaz, "To include achieving a record load of carrying 280,880 pounds with 8 MRAPs on one single mission.

"It speaks volumes that in a deployed location, we were able to quadruple the amount of missions the C-5M flies at home station, we've increased our efficiency by 20 percent in terms of how much cargo we can carry, and we're saving several million dollars in taxpayer money in the process," he said.
For aircraft in deployed locations, there are unique challenges when it comes to daily maintenance of the aircraft.

"Our success is that we're turning the aircraft quicker than we thought was possible," said SSgt Chris Shorkey, 5th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron crew chief. There are a lot of smart, experienced guys out here to support this operation, and we're finding that the different specialties coming together is helping to speed the efficiency of maintaining these aircraft."

The success of retrograde for Dover AFB, however, doesn't belong solely to the C-5M. The 3rd AS and the 326th AS have played a significant role in the C-17's contributions to completing the task of the retrograde mission.

"The C-17 supports missions all over the world, and the retrograde is a small percentage of the total missions we fly in a given month," said Lt. Col. Jason Mills, 3rd AS commander. "Oftentimes we're called to support retrograde operations amidst other mission sets, which makes it both challenging and rewarding to be a part of the unique retrograde operations."

For the month of October, the 3rd AS and the 326th combined reigned in 37 sorties, 203 hours, 1.9 million pounds of cargo, 254 pallets, 68 units of rolling stock, and 664 passengers.

"Retrograde from land-locked Afghanistan in the most fiscally responsible fashion requires a rock-solid plan and exceptional execution," said Col. Michael Grismer, 436th Airlift Wing commander. "Our success to date is the result of incredible teamwork between Team Dover Active and Reserve Airmen, as well as innovative operators and maintainers who continue to max-perform these great flying machines, the C-17 and C-5M."

The retrograde mission is scheduled for completion in mid-December.