How the Air Force delivers Army helicopters
Among members of the Air Force, there's a tendency to be interested in aircraft. More than just aircraft, though, aircraft in aircraft is the type of idea that has the potential to harken back to the science fiction imaginings of many early childhoods. But true to form, science fiction in the military scarcely stays fiction for long.
From Jan. 11 to 13, 2019, it was the job of the C-5M Super Galaxy aircrew and aerial port specialists at Travis Air Force, California to join in efforts with the Army to transport four UH-60 Black Hawks from California to the helicopters' home base at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
"Accomplishing the feat took no small measure of cooperation between the two sister services," said Staff Sgt. Bradley Chase, 60th Aerial Port Squadron special handling supervisor. "You figure some of the C-5M aircrew who are transporting the Black Hawks have never even seen one before," Chase said. "It's because of that, having the Army here and participating in this training with us is so important. Coming together with our own expertise on our respective aircraft is what's vital to the success of a mission like this."
Chase went on to explain that in a deployed environment, Black Hawks are usually ferried around on C-17 Globemaster IIIs because of their tactical versatility.
US Air Force C-17A Globemaster III.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)
Which is great, he said, but in respect to total force readiness, sometimes a C-5M is the better choice for airlift.
"Our job as a military isn't only to practice the tried and true formula — it's to also blaze and refine new trails in the event we ever need to," he said. "By allowing us to train on mobilizing these Black Hawks, the Army is giving us the opportunity to utilize not only the C-17s in our fleet, but also our C-5Ms. As it pertains to our base's mission, that difference can mean everything."
The difference Chase speaks of is one of 18 aircraft — over five million more pounds of cargo weight in addition to the 2,221,700 afforded to Travis AFB's mission by the C-17. In terms of "rapidly projecting American power anytime, anywhere," those numbers are not insignificant.
The Army, likewise, used the training as an opportunity to reinforce its own mission set.
"The decision to come to Travis mostly had to do with our needing a (strategic air) asset to facilitate our own deployment readiness exercise to Elmendorf," said Capt. Scott Amarucci, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, C Company platoon leader. "Travis was the first base to offer up their C-5M to get the job done, so that's where we went."
Amarucci's seven-man team supervised the Travis AFB C-5M personnel in safe loading techniques as well as educated the aircrew on the Black Hawks' basic functionality to ensure the load-up and transport was as seamless as possible.
Amid all the technical training and shoring up of various workplace competencies, the joint operation allowed for an unexpected, though welcomed, benefit: cross-culture interactions.
"It's definitely been interesting being on such an aviation-centric base," said Private 1st Class Donald Randall, 2-158th AHB, 15 T Black Hawk repair. "Experiencing the Air Force mission
Airmen and soldiers offload a UH-60 Black Hawk from a C-5 Galaxy at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan)
definitely lends to the understanding of what everyone's specialties and capabilities are when we're deployed."
"Plus, the Air Force's food is better," he laughed.
Chase also acknowledged the push to bring the Air Force and Army's similar, yet subtly different cultures to a broader mutual understanding during the times socializing was possible, an admittedly infrequent opportunity, he said.
"Outside of theater, there aren't too many opportunities to hang out with members from other branches," he said. "So when the chance to do so kind of falls into your lap, there's this urge to make the most out of it. A lot of the differences between branches are very nuanced, like how the Army likes to be called by their full rank and stuff like that, but knowing them and making an effort to be sensitive to those differences can pay huge dividends when it comes time to rely on them during deployments."
Along with finding room in our demeanors to give space for cross-cultural interactions, Chase also underscored the importance of a positive mindset to ensure successful interoperability.
"It's the idea of taking an opportunity like this that was very sudden and probably pretty inconvenient for a few people's weekend plans and asking, 'Well, I'm here, so how can I help — what lessons can I learn to help benefit my team and take what I'm doing to new heights?'"
This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.