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Airmen tackle increased operations tempo

by Capt. Wes Ticer
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

4/2/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNEWS)  -- Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing continue to maintain increased operations, both in the air and on the ground, in support of ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This week, bombers assigned to the 379th AEW saw an increase in combat sorties on the Combined Forces Air Component commander's air tasking order.

The 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron is called upon daily to provide close-air support to ground forces through precision bombing and shows of force and presence. The additional flying made for a busy week for aircrews and ground support.
"This was a good test for us to stretch our legs a little and get a taste of surge operations," said Lt. Col. Quinten Miklos, the 34th EBS director of operations. "It's an issue of stamina because what I'm asking people to do is to fly sorties more frequently." 

Aircrew members are on a cycle that consists of crew rest, flying and recovering from a mission. A 12-hour sortie typically occupies the aircrew for 18 hours, Colonel Miklos said.

"For the crews, it presents a scheduling challenge because we are limited in the normal flow of sortie generation," Colonel Miklos said. "Our planners have to juggle the schedule to adjust crews to ensure the proper rest and time for planning."

B-1 maintenance crews managed the surge in operations by thinking outside the box and because of their robust supply system, said Chief Master Sgt. James Sanders, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent.

"Every time we surge it puts extra work on the maintenance crews, but you never know how big of an impact it will have until the planes return," Chief Sanders said. "We have to hope the jet that comes back can be turned quickly. When it drops bombs, that adds more maintenance."

When the maintainers have their "backs against the wall," they have to increase their intensity and urgency to find ways to get the jets in the air and over the target.

"Around the clock, you can walk through our area anytime and you won't see anyone who is not busy," Chief Sanders said. "The B-1 is a maintenance-intensive aircraft, and to have a small inventory (of aircraft), it makes it a constant effort."

"Our saving grace is our supply system and inventory of parts," Chief Sanders said. "It's a big asset to us over here." 

The 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron supply specialists work with maintenance specialists to ensure everything from paper to airplane parts is available to meet the ATO.

The B-1 supply kit is filled mostly with high break items, but when a jet is broken and needs a unique part, the maintainers have to press to keep the remaining aircraft mission capable while awaiting the part, said Chief Sanders.

"We have made every ATO mission thrown at us," the chief said. "It takes the Airmen knowing the importance of the mission, which we instill in them every day ... there are troops on the ground that are counting on them."

"We will always provide safe, reliable and effective aircraft to our Aircrew and our maintainers don't know the word 'quit' when getting an ATO mission off the ground to help our ground troops."

The B-1s are not alone as they ramp up operations. More flights and increased sortie durations result in the need for increased fuel, which means more tanker requirements.

"Any time combat sorties are added for one of our strike or ISR aircraft, we see our numbers go up also," said Lt. Col. Tom Riney, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander.

The KC-135 planners, maintenance teams, and crews also feel the crunch of increased operations.

"Our planners and crews do a tremendous job handling the increased workload. From the planning, to the fuel, to bombs on target, it is a total 379th AEW team effort," Colonel Riney said.

On the ground, fuel specialists from the 379th ELRS continue to see record volumes of JP-8 fueled to wing aircraft.

The 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron is getting an additional RC-135 Rivet Joint crew to support the ISR surge. The increase will allow the squadron to fly additional sorties.

"We are in large measure providing direct support and threat warning to ground forces," said Lt. Col. Karen Bridges, 763rd ERS commander.

Additionally, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron has seen an increase in cargo movement requirements as a result of the surge, according to Maj. Todd Dyer, squadron director of operations.

Recently the squadron moved 500 short tons of Harvest Base Expeditionary Airfield Resource equipment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Harvest BEAR cargo, is used to set up a field kitchen, power, housing, laundry and bathroom facilities at austere locations, was moved into Iraq within 96 hours of arriving here, Major Dyer said.

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