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American Forces Press Service

Squadron Brings Relief to Tsunami-Devastated Region

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

UTAPAO, Thailand, Jan. 12, 2005 - The 8th Airlift Squadron from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., continued its vital role in the disaster relief effort today. Equipment, supplies and personnel were loaded onto one of the squadron's huge C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets for transport from here to Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Indonesia was one of the areas hardest hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunamis.

The C-17's crew of four, with the help of a Tanker Airlift Control Element team, loaded at least 58,000 pounds of equipment and supplies, Tech. Sgt. Mark R. Hafer, one of the crew's two loadmasters, said. The team is from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

The equipment, Hafer said, included a tonnage loader and an all-terrain forklift used to move pallets of supplies. Among other cargo, the C-17 carried about 6,000 pounds of relief supplies, Hafer said.

The mission came off without a hitch. The plane, which took a fair amount of time to load, landed in Banda Aceh after about two hours flight time. Cargo unloading took roughly 45 minutes, and the plane and crew departed quickly on its next mission.

The 8th Airlift Squadron's normal missions involve a great deal of training with the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., Hafer said. The unit also has flown missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This mission is different though, Hafer said. "You definitely get more satisfaction helping people," he said. "It beats getting shot at," he added with a smile.

Satisfying as it may be, the mission here is more difficult than normal. Simply navigating the lumbering C-17 into the Banda Aceh airport has its challenges.

"All of their stuff was wiped out," said Capt. Bill Quashnock, aircraft commander, including the airport's radar system. Airtower personnel cannot "see" inbound planes before they are physically visible.

"As we're flying in, we're constantly having to give them updates (on our location)," he said.

To combat the lack of a radar system, the aircrews use what are referred to as "nonradar procedures." The system is officially known as TCAS, or Traffic Collision Avoidance System. The C-17 also has a small radar system onboard that can pick up other planes in the area, which is especially important since air traffic controllers can't see on radar when planes might be crossing paths and subject to a collision.

"(TCAS) is a fallback everywhere," Quashnock said. But, it's not as difficult for pilots as it is for the controllers, he added.

The air traffic controller, who is Indonesian, has a bit of help by way of an Australian counterpart, Quashnock said. That backup watches over the air traffic controller's shoulder to ensure that there are no misunderstandings because of any language difficulties.

The authorization of night flights is imminent, Quashnock said. As the airport's systems are limited, these night flights will require the use of night-vision goggles, he noted.

With all the challenges present in flying relief equipment and supplies into Banda Aceh, Quashnock agreed with Hafer on this mission being more satisfying than those to Afghanistan and Iraq. "I guess you could say it's a lot more enjoyable," he said.

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