GYPSUM, Colo. --
Members of the 815th Airlift Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, delivered cargo, troops and provided air support for Rally in the Rockies Sept. 12-17, 2021.
Rally in the Rockies, the 22nd Air Force’s flagship exercise, was held in Colorado and Wyoming for active, Air National Guard and Reserve Airmen and was designed to develop Airmen for combat operations by challenging them with realistic scenarios that support a full spectrum of operations during military actions, operations or hostile environments.
“This was a great training opportunity. We were able to fly in environments and terrain that we aren’t used to flying here on the Gulf Coast,” said Capt. Korey Papa, 815th AS pilot. “As well as integrating the (C-130) J models with the H models provided some challenges that we had to work around, and overall it was a good learning experience working with different Air Force Reserve Command units we normally don’t get to see.”
The 815th AS and the 757th Airlift Squadron out of Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio were located at the forward operating location of Vail Valley Jet Center, Gypsum, Colorado, where their mission was to provide air support of cargo and troop drops into designated areas as directed by the main operating base out of Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.
This exercise encompassed multiple locations with the main operating base located at Peterson SFB and the forward operating locations in Rifle, Gypsum, Montrose, Colorado and in Wyoming, plus multiple cargo and paratrooper drops zones.
On the second day of the exercise, the scenario involved delivering supplies to troops about to be overrun in a four-ship formation using a low-cost low-altitude bundles.
“LCLAs are designed to be expendable airdrops into austere locations and are typical resupplies for those troops in forward operating locations,” said Staff Sgt. Quinn Harris, 815th AS loadmaster.
The C-130 Hercules of the 815th AS and 757th AS were the aircraft assigned to deliver the cargo to the Taylor Park, Colorado drop zone.
“We drop the items troops need, like food and ammo, at 300 feet off the ground,” Quinn said, “This is one of the best parts of my job, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the one hurtling things out of the back of a plane.”
Each day, during the exercise the aircrews were briefed on the mission of the day from “command,” giving them the purpose of what needed to be done without the details of how to accomplish it.
Maj. Ryan Dewey, 815th AS pilot, and there to Observe, Coach, and Train (OC/T) for the exercise, said that one of the big objectives of the exercise was to see how the units would do with mission type orders.
“The full picture of what was happening was kept from the crews in order to give them a more dynamic wartime scenario,” said Dewey. “So in order to test mission type orders, a lot of specifics and details were kept from the crews to see how they would go about accomplishing their objectives.”
This means that the aircrews didn’t know what scenario or plan was going to happen. The brief they received gave them their mission, their take-off time, and their time to “target,” or when to get there or when the supplies have to be on the drop zone.
Normally when working locally, crews can plan at least a day ahead, but Papa explained that having these challenges showcased that the crews could get together quickly, use the training that they have built upon over years of flying, put together a product, and execute their mission as necessary to support the fight.
Dealing with multiple units, types of aircraft, and locations for the exercise; actual real-world situations arose, and the 815th AS showed they were up to the task.
While still playing in the exercise, the 815th AS picked up real-world missions such as transporting maintenance personnel and equipment to Rifle Garfield County Airport, Rifle, Colorado for an aircraft maintenance issue.
On the third day of the exercise, the aircrew of one of the 757th AS C-130H Hercules took the lead on the paratrooper drop in Wyoming, and dropped more than 25 paratroopers from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Carson, Colorado.
“The formation took off with four aircraft, but an issue caused one aircraft to have to turn back immediately,” said Maj. Raymond Toy, 757th AS navigator instructor. “But just like in a wartime situation, we continued as planned and the drop was successful.”
While they were taking part in the paratrooper drop, the second aircrew from the 757th AS and an aircrew from the 815th AS took part in wet-wing defueling, which is something that the 815th AS aircrews or members of the 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron do not normally get at Keesler AFB.
“It was a unique opportunity for our aircrew members to participate in and to get some valuable training on,” said Maj. Nick Foreman, 815th AS pilot. “We previously had no one trained at the 403rd to do wet-wing defueling, and now we have some pilots and loadmasters trained.”
The defueling procedure is used to quickly transfer fuel from one aircraft to another in forward operating bases where they don’t have an established fuel storage facility. The aircraft lands, keeps engines running, and on-site ground crews transfer the fuel from the wing to a fuel truck. The fuel truck then transfers that fuel to another aircraft.
Along with the pilots and loadmasters who experienced wet-wing defueling during RITR, so did one of the 403rd LRS fuels technician, Staff Sgt. Ray Brown, a reservist who has served for eight years and deployed to Southwest Asia, this was his first exposure to the defueling process.
While the exercise also focused on training Multi-Capable Airmen when in a forward location, operating with a small number of Airmen who need to be agile in their ability to carry out the mission. The purpose of the C-130s was to provide support for those forward operating locations.
Overall this exercise showed how well the 815th AS and the 757th AS complimented each other and were flexible when it came to getting the mission accomplished.
“Both units were willing to adjust as needed,” said Dewey. “We rarely get to interfly the H and J models that, even as experienced as lead qualified instructors, it provides good training and serves as a reminder of some of the small differences we need to make when flying together.
Toy and Papa both agreed that it was great working with others who were so personable, professional and upbeat, because it was good having a group of people who worked so well together and were able to work cohesively as one unit, making them more efficient at getting the job done.