February 12, 2017
By: Stephen Losey
Some flights are quick, lasting just under four hours round-trip with just one stop on the way. But others have multiple stops and can take about 12 hours.
“We call it the Iraq pain train,” said Tech. Sgt. Nathan Schultz, a loadmaster. “Those can be long and tedious. You’re constantly loading, unloading, reconfiguring. A lot of times you’ll get to the destination, you’ll unload all your pallets, and then you’ll have to bring on 50 people, [and] you’ll have to put all the seats down. It can be a painful transition back and forth.”
And when emergency strikes — such as the Islamic State’s October destruction of a sulfur plant near Mosul, which spewed toxic clouds for days as it burned and sickened hundreds — logistics officers and transport aircraft work together to get life-saving supplies into the field as quickly as possible. In the case of the sulfur plant attack, this included scrambling to gather hundreds of gas mask filters for coalition forces at the nearby Qayyarah West Airfield, said Capt. Jeff Benson, a logistics officer assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
Multiple times each day, huge C-130s and C-17s from the 386th are packed with cargo and personnel for flights into Iraq and other locations. The 386th flies about 475 cargo sorties per month, moving roughly 6,200 tons of cargo and 6,700 passengers monthly.
This day, though, none of those emergency supplies would be needed — it would be a textbook supply run, encountering nothing more dangerous in the air than an Iraqi passenger Airbus.
Pilot Lt. Col. Pat Murphy and navigator Capt. Justin Hutchins pulled on helmets with night vision goggles attached and stepped inside booths with blackout curtains to test them. The crew went out to the flightline, where a K loader — a vehicle designed to move heavy cargo onto airplanes — pulled up with four big pallets of spare parts and medical supplies and a smaller pallet of mail. The C-130’s ramp lowered and was braced with a wooden support called a “milk stool.” After loadmasters moved the pallets over the rollers onto the plane and tightly secured the cargo, Tech. Sgt. Julie LaRocque, a crew chief, threw both her arms in the air and cheered.
Loadmasters such as Schultz are responsible for making sure all the cargo is properly secured — some pallets are secured with locks on the C-130’s rails, and other loose cargo such as baggage is usually secured with heavy straps — and balanced in the back of the plane, so the weight doesn’t throw the plane off as it tries to take off and land. Loadmasters also ensure the passengers have the seats they need.
It’s crucial to make sure cargo is locked down tight, Schultz said, because C-130s landing in Iraq often have to hit the brakes quickly.
“That’s more of a danger than anything we’ve noticed in the air,” Schultz said.
Schultz said his crew typically flies every other day.
“It’s kind of boring, those days that we have off,” Schultz said. “We’d rather be flying, but we need to have a day so that we can recuperate.”
“I’m ready to get there,” he said.