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News > 15 AS deploys in support of OIF, OEF
15 AS deploys in support of OIF, OEF

Posted 6/30/2010   Updated 6/30/2010 Email story   Print story

    


by Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles
Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs


6/30/2010 - JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Fifteenth Airlift Squadron Airmen, their families and friends bid each other farewell June 25 as more than 100 members departed for an assignment in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Trailing just a few days behind an advance team of key squadron personnel, the Airmen will be deployed for approximately 120 days as the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron to various locations throughout Eurasia and the Middle East.

The 817 EAS is responsible for scheduling, planning and executing C-17 missions into the USCENTCOM area of responsibility in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The unit is headquartered at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

As one of many units at Incirlik, the 817 EAS is the second half of a two-part, expeditionary airlift squadron concept, which was established in 2006. Its sister unit is the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which operates out of a non-disclosed location in the Middle East. The concept provides two airlift hubs at separate geographic locations to speed passengers and equipment in and out of the fight.

Since 2006, Charleston airlift squadrons have traditionally deployed as the 816 EAS, making the recent deployment as the 817 EAS a first for the 15 AS, and a first for Charleston airlift squadrons altogether. Switching operating environments wasn't a simple task, said Roy Johnson, 437th Operations Group unit deployment manger. So, along with the help of his team, he set out to Turkey prior to the deployment to help clear the way.

One difficulty, Mr. Johnson said, came in the fact that the unit would not all be deploying to one location, but to several, making delivery of the right equipment to the right location a challenge. The advance trip made a world of difference, he said, and gave the ground view of the situation his team needed to execute the deployment.

Once in country, the Airmen of the 15 AS will relieve responsibility from the 21st Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., as they return home after serving their rotation as the 817 EAS. Their deployment saw airlift operations totaling 50 million pounds of cargo, which included 70,000 passengers, 585 vehicles, and 52 senior-ranking officials to austere airbases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan within the first 60 days - just one sampling of the tremendous effort mobility Airmen bring to the fight.

At a time when Air Mobility Command was delivering approximately 382 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen and 637 short tons of cargo daily to Afghanistan locations, former AMC Commander Gen. Arthur Lichte, called Incirlik Air Base, "absolutely vital to the warfighter downrange," in mid-2009. Since then, AMC numbers have nearly doubled to more than 633 warfighters and 1,100 short tons airlifted daily due to sustained surge operations.

If the tempo keeps up, the 15 AS will have their hands full, but from the perspective of Lt. Col. Rebecca Sonkiss, 15 AS commander, her unit is ready. The colonel, who recently took command of the 15 AS in late-May, had only returned from a deployment with Charleston's 17th Airlift Squadron in January before now heading back to the AOR yet again.

"I'm incredibly excited. As a commander, it's what we train for - to go out and perform the mission in the AOR and serve the folks on the ground," she said. "Yes, I am quick turning, but that's really a sidebar to what is really a very rewarding experience. To go out and lead our folks doing this is going to be a highlight of my career."

Now, leading her team into a deployment six months after her last, she will be getting to know her squadron, and vice versa, in the fast pace of deployed operations.

"I think we will come together very quickly as a team," she said. "We already have in the process of getting ready to deploy in the last couple weeks. When we get out there, the day-to-day contact with folks is going to be invaluable and really getting to see people at their best when we're out there doing the mission."



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