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NEWS | Aug. 8, 2013

Airmen transform outpost into critical air transport hub for presidential visit

By Capt. David Bredesen 621st Contingency Response Wing

More than 170 mobility Airmen from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., descended on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic aboard four U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, June 14, 2013.

This first wave was followed by 92 more C-17 and KC-10 Extender aircraft performing an aggressive 24/7 stage operation over the next 24 days. The normally tranquil island transformed into a major military aircraft hub during the month-long operation moving equipment and passengers to and from Africa in preparation for President Barack Obama's official state visit to the African continent.

During the six-day visit, the president and first lady traveled through Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, meeting with government and business leaders to promote democracy and reinforce the United States' commitment to expanding economic growth, investment and trade in the African continent.

The operation was supported by a small but capable team of permanent party military from the 45th Operations Group, Detachment 2 in addition to the deployed Airmen. Additionally, a detachment from the Royal Air Force's 1st Air Mobility Wing as well as contractor personnel provided round-the-clock support to ensure mission success. The island's small civilian population was also supportive of the operation, graciously welcoming the influx of deployed troops.

"Ascension Island usually receives three aircraft per week," said Maj. Michael Campbell, Detachment 2 commander. "It took the combined efforts of every agency on Ascension, as well as the deployed Airmen to support the heightened operations tempo and make this mission a success."

A contingency response element consisting of 33 Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing at Travis augmented Ascension's existing airfield infrastructure, providing command and control, communications and aerial port services for the massive operation.
"This has been an incredible opportunity for the CRW to showcase its capability as Air Mobility Command's rapid response force," said Maj. Robert Arnett, mission vice commander.

"In addition, the 24 hour flow of aircraft could not have been sustained had it not been for the dedication of 45 maintainers from JB MDL and JB LM," Arnett said. "These hard working maintainers took fewer than four hours per aircraft to fuel, repair and launch for its next flight. The hard work of this world-class maintenance team set a remarkable on-time departure rate of over 90 percent."

Despite the long hours, deployed Airmen found time to host a tour for the local community, hosting more than 60 children and 30 adults from two elementary schools, a youth group and Scout troop for a tour of both a C-17 and a KC-10. Still other Airmen assisted the Ascension Island Conservation Society by maintaining hiking trails on the Green Mountain National Park Zone and helping protect endangered plants and animals.

Overall, this operation set several milestones with more than 4.4 million pounds of cargo, 1,600 passengers and 103 aircraft transiting the island. On average, one military aircraft arrived or departed Ascension's airfield every 3.5 hours for 24 straight days, making the operation the largest movement of military equipment and personnel through Ascension Island since the Falklands War in 1982. At the peak of the operation, the influx of deployed troops increased the island's population by over 25 percent.

"Despite many challenges, we achieved overwhelming success," said Lt. Col. Thad Middleton, mission commander. "I could not be more proud of how well this diverse group came together, completing this high-profile mission safely, swiftly, and with precision."