Saving lives one air drop at a time

A C-130 from the 192nd Airlift Squadron, 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, drops cargo during the National Guard PATRIOT Exercise at Volk. Field, Wis., July 23, 2014. Units from the Air National Guard, Army National Guard and the Reserves throughout the United States are working with local, state and national organizations to train on and assess their ability to respond to multiple emergencies. (U.S Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Ritter)

A C-130 from the 192nd Airlift Squadron, 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, drops cargo during the National Guard PATRIOT Exercise at Volk. Field, Wis., July 23, 2014. Units from the Air National Guard, Army National Guard and the Reserves throughout the United States are working with local, state and national organizations to train on and assess their ability to respond to multiple emergencies. (U.S Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Ritter)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Sixteen hours into their crew rest day, having just completed a 12-hour combat mission, the members of ANVIL 41 were notified of an assault in a valley known as a "safe-haven" for enemy insurgents. The assault would result in one of the worst losses of U.S. forces during Operation Enduring Freedom.

On March 11, 2013, in response to this significant loss the crew executed an emergency re-supply, high risk, no-fail mission that had the potential to encounter surface to air fire from enemy combatants.

"We were obviously tired after a long mission," said Maj. Jacob Duff, 15th Special Operations Squadron assistant director of operations. "Those thoughts disappeared quickly when we were tasked with such a high priority and difficult airdrop."

The crew prepared for a rapid, night emergency tasking. They quickly uploaded and inspected eight airdrop bundles allowing them to take-off within 30 minutes of initial notification.

"You don't spend a lot of time pondering the importance of the moment," Duff said. "We focused on getting to the airplane as swiftly as possible and building a flight plan that would allow us to accomplish the mission safely and quickly."

The mission planning, normally done in a couple hours on the ground, was accomplished in minutes, while airborne. With less than 20 minutes to the drop zone, the crew navigated through dangerous terrain while planning an extremely challenging airdrop with some details still unknown.

"In the back of our minds we were thinking of the what-ifs and emergencies that could arise from doing this type of drop," said Tech. Sgt. Colin Schulze, 15th Special Operations Squadron loadmaster.

ANVIL 41 began their approach to the drop zone while coordinating support with A-10 and AC-130 aircraft to ensure the area was clear of threats prior to conducting the drop.

With an unmarked, non-standard drop zone and a last second drop clearance from the Joint Terminal Attack Controller on the ground, the crew placed a re-supply bundle within one yard of the ground forces commander's desired point.

"This is precisely the type of mission we train for," Duff said. "We train hard so that when these missions require us, we can execute in a safe and professional manner."

The loadmasters of ANVIL 41 performed brand new drift strapping techniques, completing five total passes, dropping a total of eight bundles inside the Forward Operating Base. This ensured supplies, vital to the defense of the post, were delivered with pinpoint accuracy.

"Drift strapping allows us to safely move the next set of bundles to the ramp after the first set of bundles have exited the aircraft,' said Staff Sgt. Bart Johnson, 15th Special operations Squadron loadmaster. "This type of air drop technique helped because we were able to accomplish multiple drops on a small drop zone."

The decisive actions of ANVIL 41 resulted in re-supplying a 101-person quick reaction force, enabling them to repel enemy forces and defend a critical FOB in a heavily disputed valley, as well as the return of all seven aircrewmen and a $175 million aircraft.

"Instincts are only developed through hundreds of training events and thousands of flying hours," Duff said. "We are proud to know that we supported the ground forces and brought the crew and airplane home in one piece."

For their brave and heroic actions that ensured the safety of fellow service members, the crew earned the 2013 MAF Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner award.

"I am very proud to be part of a crew and a squadron that can accomplish missions like this," Duff said. "We work extremely hard to maintain our skills for these missions, and there is certainly a level of satisfaction experienced when we actually execute these missions under challenging circumstances."