McChord Airmen participate in Mali airlift operations

By Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin/62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs on February 7, 2013

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Since Jan. 21, when the U.S. began operations to support French efforts against extremist forces in Mali, U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft have flown nearly 60 missions, transporting more than 1,200 tons of cargo and more than 950 passengers into the region.

More than 30 of those missions have been completed by Airmen and aircraft from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings here.

"This has truly been a great opportunity to support our allies," said Maj. Joshua Pieper, 62nd Airlift Wing Plans and Programs chief of exercises and evaluations, currently working as the stage manager and chief of stage tactics in Istres, France. "The French Air Force has been extremely flexible and motivated partners in supporting of our C-17 missions."

Pieper, along with other aircrew members, maintainers and support personnel, departed McChord Field within eight hours of being notified. Upon their arrival to Istres, they quickly got to work setting up a base of operations. This required the team to overcome some obstacles first, since Istres is not a typical staging location for McChord aircraft.

"When we first arrived, we had no DSN or network capabilities," he said. "We relied on local cell phones and the French military's equipment to help manage our assets and contact our command and control."

Eventually, members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis AFB, Calif. were able to install equipment which enhanced communications.

Soon after, the team went to work, transporting French soldiers and military equipment from Istres to Bamako, Mali.

"The best part of this mission is being able to take part in something important and being able to say, 'I was there. I helped make that happen,'" said Airman 1st Class Evan Rosenboom, 62nd Operations Support Squadron aviation resource management journeymen.

Since the start of the airlift missions, the U.S. and French teams have worked closely together to prepare and load equipment onto the C-17s.

"It's a good thing for us to work together on things like this, because we want to be an asset to the operation, not a hindrance," said French air force Maj. Eric Chabaud, who is the chief of aircraft services in Istres. "We have a very good relationship with the Americans here right now and we help them any time we can."

Though the team does not know how long they'll be in Istres, they remain ready to do whatever it takes to carry out the mission.

"We will continue to work closely with and support France and other partner nations to resolve the security situation in Mali," said Pieper.