By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson, Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Despite Mother Nature’s volcanic eruption in Iceland disrupting air travel for thousands, quick thinking and flexibility kept the Air Force’s crucial aeromedical and cargo airlift missions moving.
On April 15, a weather forecast, from the Air Force Weather Agency’s 2nd Weather Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., showed the eruption could affect flights across much of Northern Europe to include Ramstein Air Base, Germany, which happens to be a transition point for wounded warriors coming from Afghanistan and Iraq. Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany is normally where the wounded would be treated and rest for a couple of days before heading on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Air Mobility Command’s 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., took immediate action by moving out cargo and tanker planes from Germany to Naval Station Rota and Moron Air Base in Spain, a good distance south of the enveloping ash clouds about to snuff out all air travel in northern Europe. Most importantly, this decisive diversion enabled the aeromedical evacuation missions to continue — ensuring the wounded warriors were still able to get to the U.S. with little disruption.
During a DoD Blogger’s Rountable held April 21, Air Force Brig. Gen. Randy Kee, vice commander, 618th TACC, discusses in detail the diligent maneuvers that occurred in order to overcome the impending “dark cloud” and continue with the joint-force missions supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn (of Operation Iraqi Freedom)
“Since April 15, the missions that had to be re-routed or adjusted around the ash cloud have delivered 23,268 passengers and nearly 7,000 tons of cargo, ensuring our worldwide commitments continue to be met, including support to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. These figures represent more than enough people to fill Madison Square Garden and 175 fully loaded semi trucks – said General Kee, Vice Commander, 618th TACC.
“But when we’re talking about keeping cargo moving to the warfighter or moving our wounded warriors to the care they need, we’re going to do whatever it takes to safely keep the mission moving,” said General Kee.
The flight routings took longer, adding about 1.5 additional flying hours, as well as additional operating costs and more fuel usage.In addition to the diversions to Spain, additional support was necessary at both Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan and at Balad Air Base, Iraq.
While the dust settles over the European sky, missions from the temporary southern locations will continue.