All posts by ktomlin

Energy-conscious military calls for energy-conscious troops

By Isabel Calamoneri
Cadet 3rd Class, AFROTC
Detachment 160, University of Georgia

In this blog post, an AFROTC cadet provides her perspective on the Army-Air Force Energy Forum that took place Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington D.C.

Winds of EnergyIn a break out session on culture change, Colonel Patrick Kumashiro, Commander, 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG), talked about four ideas that he believes are pivotal to changing our Air Force and greater military’s mindset on smarter energy use and conservation.

First, and most importantly, we have to have the right people. We need people who are informed about modern conservation technologies; we need people who are eager to move forward toward a greener force, and we need people who know people (especially rich ones). If we can create a network of resources, the attitude and almost as important, the funds needed to create this change should begin to provide a solid foundation off which to build when shaping a new, more energy-conscious military.

The second factor Col Kumashiro discussed was the importance of instilling policy that encourages or even demands greener standards of operation. Standards cannot be enforced and maintained until they have been established.

Another key player in our efforts to change the culture is education. If we lack men and women who are informed about modern conservation technologies, we lack the resources needed to develop new systems. Beyond employing scholars who focus on conservation, we need to educate Service members in ways in which they can conserve energy in their day-to-day lives. If we can instill good habits on the most basic levels (turning off lights when leaving a room, not running the water when brushing teeth, etc), we can begin to change the way people think about energy use.

Finally, we must consider from where we are receiving the funds to make tangible changes to the actual assets that we are using every day. With limited funding, it is especially important that we allocate as much money and time as is available toward making changes to the buildings, appliances, and tools that we use every day.

So, what does this mean to me? How, as an AFROTC cadet, can I apply these ideas to my little role in our military? Well, I would say that being at a big school like the University of Georgia allows me to network with all different kinds of people. I can start to make those connections with students who are going into contracting and renewable energy research and production. I can take a class or two on the importance of energy conservation and encourage my peers to do the same– awareness is the first step. While I have little control over “policy,” I can establish rules with my roommates/hallmates/housemates to be careful about leaving lights, TVs, and radios on when they leave the room; to unplug hair dryers and phone and computer chargers when not in use; to turn off the water when brushing teeth and not to run the shower until they are ready to get in it.

Additionally, I could ask that we do our best to make similar changes at the detachment in order to get cadets in the right mindset before they become officers and begin living off of the Air Force’s budget. While these changes are small, they can make a big difference in energy consumption over the years. Furthermore, if these habits are passed on to future generations and future roommates/hallmates/housemates, the breadth of culture change will begin to expand throughout the country, even beyond the military.

Photo: Two of the three wind turbines at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. face the wind coming across the high plains and push against the clouds that later dropped a few inches of snow on the base and surrounding city of Cheyenne on April 6, 2010. The larger wind turbine (right) was completed and online early in 2009 and is rated at 2 mega watts of electrical energy that goes directly into the base power grid. The other two produces a combined output of 1.3MW. From most points on the base the wind turbines can be seen. At its base, the blades make a low whoosh sound. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lance Cheung)

121,000 pounds in 15 seconds

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central

Their flight suits are soaked through with sweat, it’s 110 degrees outside and the smell in the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III resembles a high school locker room — we’re 30 minutes into our 15-hour mission.

Air DropLike the majority of people who like to browse news on the war, I’ve seen many pictures and videos of supplies and cargo being dropped from an aircraft … the pallets of supplies float gracefully down and that is that. Never do I see the blood, sweat and tears that go behind getting those pallets to where they need to be.

The crew is alerted around 9 a.m. and arrives to the squadron 40 minutes later. They assemble for a highly detailed pre-mission brief that prepares the Airmen for what they will face during their mission.

Once processed through customs, it’s time to arm up and head to the plane. Today is my first combat airdrop mission; our location is somewhere in Southwest Asia. The air is heavy with humidity — you can actually feel the air on your skin. At this point, all we’ve done is place our bags on the C-17 and already our flight suits are drenched in sweat. Drops of perspiration are falling off the loadmaster’s face. We have 13 hours left in the day.

Even in the cargo bay of the massive aircraft, room is at a premium. More than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel loaded on 40 pallets fill the aircraft from tail to nose, leaving just enough space for us to walk along the sides. The loadmaster’s voice comes over the speakers “ready for takeoff.” Within seconds our warehouse with wings is in the air.

Estimated time over target is two hours. The lights dim and things begin to cool off as we ascend.

As we get closer to the drop zone, Staff Sgt. Russ Johnson, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, signals a 30-minute warning. My two partners are no strangers to documenting airdrops, but for me, this is a new experience.

I strap myself into a seat in the back by the door. The aircraft dives, dips and dodges its way through the mountains of Afghanistan — I eye up the closest pile of puke-bags in case things go south for this guy.

The door opens at about 1,000 feet above the ground. I knew Afghanistan was mountainous, but I couldn’t have been prepared for what I saw. The mountains are high and the aircraft is low. It feels as though I could reach out and touch the mountaintops — I wasn’t too far off.

It’s game time. Red light … yellow light … green light. Within two seconds, 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel violently races past me and out the aircraft, floating down to coalition troops on the ground. Our second pass drops another load.

Gearing up for our third drop, a stop is made at Bagram Airfield (BAF) to refuel and load up another 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat. As we’re parked on the ramp, the doors open and the tail goes down. For anyone who hasn’t been to BAF, it’s a sight to see. A bowl of mountains surround the airfield. On the ramp of the aircraft lay two loadmasters enjoying the sunset on what appears to be a peaceful evening.

With one pallet left to load on the plane, sirens go off. The peaceful moment disappears as the crew loading the plane runs for cover because, make no mistake about it, we are at war.

Air DropThe news team and aircrew shelter in place on the aircraft. The sirens disappear and a new noise is heard. A pair of fighter jets and helicopters take to the sky. We all agree, someone is about to have a bad day.

More than an hour passes before the last pallet is finally loaded.

The sun is down and the sky is dark. Red lights illuminate the cargo area of the plane.

In preparation for the last drop of the mission, the lights dim. Looking through the viewfinder of my camera is a daunting task as visibility is close to nonexistent. We’re effectively an invisible flying Wal-Mart under the night sky. In a matter of 10 seconds, the doors open, the MREs blast out the door and we are on our way home.

Fifteen hours for about 15 seconds of actual action. Action that will keep my brothers and sisters fed, and their vehicles working.

The men and women of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Joint Base Charleston are game changers. They allow coalition forces to sustain operations in some of the most austere locations on Earth. They are force multipliers.

Video: Airlift supports warfighter

Photo: (Top) Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephen Adams, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, observes 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel fly out the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft over Afghanistan July 8, 2011. The C-17 dropped more than 121,000 pounds of food and fuel during a 15-hour mission. Supplies were dropped to U.S. and coalition troops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri) (Bottom) Staff Sgt. Adams releases 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat out of the C-17 on July 8, 2011 over Afghanistan during the concealment of the night sky. The crews also airdropped more than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel during their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

Khobar Towers 15 years later

By Lt. Col. Chuck Blank
162nd Fighter Wing, Arizona Air National Guard

Lt. Col. Blank A couple of weeks ago Airmen around the world remembered the lives lost and the lessons learned from the attack on the military housing complex June 25, 1996. Lt. Col. Blank shares his first hand experience…

It was 15 years ago, but the memory of the Khobar Towers bombing is as vivid as ever in my mind – and so are personal lessons I learned from that horrible night that claimed the lives of 19 Airmen and injured hundreds.

Volumes have been written since then outlining everything we learned from that terrorist attack. But as someone who was there, I hold two simple truths; the training we get in the Air Force truly works in a crisis, and our vigilance and pure instinct can save lives.

In 1996 I was an F-16 pilot assigned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and in June of that year I deployed with my squadron for my third tour to Saudi Arabia to support Operation Southern Watch. We were in Dhahran flying out of the international airport to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Khobar Towers was a military compound which was part of a civilian apartment complex. It was a nice compound with a clinic, a gym, a dining facility and they even built a roller-hockey rink – not a bad place to spend 90 days.

We were conducting 24-hour operations and occasionally we’d get some continuation training done. Often after dinner, if we weren’t flying nights we’d play hockey then go back to our room to watch a movie before bed. Then we’d do it all over again the next day.

It was our second week in country. On this night I was in my second floor suite with two roommates sitting in our common area when it happened. It must have been quick, but time seemed to slow down. I could feel the earth shake for half a second, the power went out and we didn’t hear anything.

Then in an instant the sliding glass door to our balcony, and everything attached to it, flew across the room in shards and landed on us.

There we were in the dark with a big hole in the wall. We didn’t know what happened and all we could hear was yelling and screaming from outside.

We started to realize it could be an attack so one of my roommates had the wherewithal to flip a table on its side for cover. My other roommate helped me pull remains of the door off my legs. We were cut up but not mortally wounded so we got out of there.

We grabbed our hockey sticks in case we had to defend ourselves and went to the hallway dimly lit by a few security lights. At that point a friend pointed out a three inch piece of glass stuck in my leg and the blood pooling by my foot.

I pulled out the glass and dressed the wound with my T-shirt. Chaos had begun to ensue and there were many people hurt worse than I was so my focus was getting them out of the building while administering self-aid buddy care.

It wasn’t until I got outside that I realized that it wasn’t our building that was directly attacked. Two buildings down the row I could see a large plume and the people running away from it.

For the first 45 minutes I remember controlled chaos. In the midst of the confusion and walking wounded, people were responding. We were triaging those seriously wounded in front of the dining facility, and our squadron was forming up in the gym accounting for our unit members. Everyone was doing exactly what they were supposed to do. This was an amazing response to witness that, to this day, gives me personal faith in our people, their discipline and the training they receive in the Air Force.

Four or five hours later, after my squadron was all accounted for and our wounds were patched, we turned on CNN in the gym to finally learn that it was a terrorist attack.

Explosives were delivered in a large fuel tanker truck. The terrorists were third country nationals that worked on the compound as contractors. They had all of the proper identification and paperwork to gain access that evening.

If they had been able to plant the truck where they wanted – right in the middle of the compound – the explosion would have killed hundreds were it not for one young troop. A security forces Airman in the first days of his first deployment followed his instincts and didn’t allow the truck onto the compound even though the driver had the necessary documentation.

Why would a fuel truck deliver fuel at 9:43 p.m.? It didn’t make sense to him. This is the second lesson I learned. There is no substitute for, or greater security measure than vigilance and instinct.

Instead, the terrorists were turned away. So they detonated the TNT-laden truck outside the compound. The damage and loss of life were tragic, but this one Airman undoubtedly saved countless lives.

Khobar Towers taught us several lessons that should be remembered every day. Those who died made the ultimate sacrifice, and we should never forget that each of us, regardless of our role in either operations or support, is responsible for the safety and security of our fellow servicemembers.

Our training, professionalism, awareness and our “gut” instincts are some of the most valuable assets in the United States Air Force.

Photo: Lt. Col. Chuck Blank, left, walks to an F-16 Fighting Falcon on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline at Tucson International Airport with a student pilot from Poland. Colonel Blank, now a squadron commander in the Air National Guard, was one of 372 people injured in the 1996 terrorist attacks on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jack Braden)

What sets the Air Force apart?

by Lt. Col. Calvin Daniel
Commander, 97th Force Support Squadron

Since my time in recruiting, one thing I often think about is our shared Air Force culture and what that means to each Airman. In the Marine Corps, every Marine is a Rifleman first, and of course everyone knows about “The few, the proud…” In the Army, everyone is a Soldier first, with the Army brand so strong that people in my hometown use the word “military” and “Army” interchangeably. In the Navy, the shared experience of sea duty still carries the notion of adventure and mystique, which has endured for hundreds of years. Along these lines, what then is the draw for someone to join and remain in our Air Force? In my opinion, the things that should instill this desire to join and longing to stay are pride in our glorious past, our professional standing in the present and rapt attention to the future.

The pioneers of airpower were larger than life, selfless in death and Airmen of fundamental integrity in everything they did. Gen. Billy Mitchell sacrificed his career for integrity, standing firm in the correct belief that the Air Force would be more effective as a separate service. Countless Airmen went to their deaths in wooden air frames covered in canvas, sacrificing their lives so people continents away could live freely. We have a brave and glorious heritage, ultimately framed by selfless actions that continue to this very day.

Day by day, I’m struck by the professionalism of our Airmen. I’m often told how nice Air Force members are. It’s true; take the pleasant, smiling captain who yielded you a parking space at the Commissary. Put him or her behind the stick of a C-17 Globemaster III, however, and that competent professional will accomplish the mission every single time, much to the chagrin of weary enemies. Or consider the nice staff sergeant who coaches little league. Imagine that same sergeant – a security forces member – responding to a suspect trying to gain access to our base, intending to harm our people or resources. Rest assured, our people and resources will remain undisturbed if that sergeant has anything to say about it. Even today, we remain devoted Airmen who accomplish the mission with the quiet professionalism of well-trained warriors and the humble gratitude of a nation we are sworn to protect.

What really sets the Air Force apart is that we constantly scan the horizon, not only to see the next threat, but to also have already sorted a response. Want to bring down our satellites? We’ll be ready, and you should be keeping a close eye on yours. Thinking about taking down our network? We’ve been thinking about that too, and made it more secure. Think you can hide from our remotely piloted vehicles? A lot of bad guys aren’t around anymore to ask how that worked out for them. And we’ll be working on nanotechnology – planes the size of shot glasses with cameras to collect intelligence in the smallest nook or cranny that an enemy may hide in.

America's AirmenAs a service, the Air Force has always accomplished the nation’s mission with integrity, and let’s face it, a bit of flair; streaking across the wild blue yonder, airframes gleaming, scarves billowing in victory or sacrifice. Our Airmen, from general officers to technical sergeants, remain consummate professionals in discharging their duties. Finally, we take pride in countering threats well before an enemy realizes their capability could be a threat. For these reasons, I feel pride in this Air Force – a long, blue distinguished line. And I hope that my fellow Airmen do as well.

Deploy; and recharge your honor and service

By TSgt Kevin Nichols
3rd Combat Camera Squadron, Lackland AFB, Texas

Tech. Sgt. Kevin Nichols writes as a guest blogger from the perspective of a mentor speaking to a young airman who may be getting ready to deploy for the first time…

TSgt. Nichols writing a journal entry
You’ve heard stories from veterans. You’ve seen your brethren deploy and come back with stories of grandeur. Now—it’s your turn. Maybe you’ve never deployed before. It’s about to be an experience of a lifetime and one only the military can give you.

In all three of my deployments in the last five years (two to Iraq, one to Southwest Asia), each one has given me lasting memories of renewed honor and a true definition of why we signed “the bottom line.” It wasn’t for college, to leave town or to gain a girlfriend/boyfriend. These are simply the great benefits in exchange for your life to defend this nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Remember those words? They can be lost in the grime of everyday Air Force life for some.

My first deployment in 2006 took me to 14 Middle East locations throughout five countries. Stationed out of Balad, Iraq, I was part of a Combat News Team documenting and telling the Air Force story – how the Air Force is contributing to the fight. I went on a convoy with the last Air Force team that was there in lieu of a long-standing Army tasking when the Army was spread thin. It was not only a historic event, but it was also exhilarating to be on this mission — in a Humvee — traipsing through the Iraq countryside. In another convoy trip while I was documenting the oil pipeline refurbishment project Air Force teams were working on in Kirkuk, Iraq, another convoy could be seen and heard on the horizon by a plume of smoke…it had hit an improvised explosive device. It was just 20 minutes behind us and on the same road we just traveled down. Four Soldiers were killed. We honored them that night on the flightline as their caskets were loaded onto an aircraft bound for Dover, Del. It’s not my prettiest memory, but it brought the realness of the words “ultimate sacrifice” home for all of us that were out there with them that night. It was pouring down rain with gusts of 50 mile-per-hour winds as we stood firm at attention with our salute firmly pressed to our covers, not moving an inch as each casket passed before our eyes.

During my second tour in Iraq in 2008, I had the unique opportunity to be the voice of servicemen and women on the American Forces Network (AFN) Baghdad. The radio and television station served as a hub of information and stories of all services that not only was broadcast throughout Iraq, but through the Pentagon Channel and AFN stations throughout Europe. This was a unique time in history when Muqtada al-Sadr, a very influential religious and political figure in Iraq, launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign across Iraq to protest raids and detentions against the Mahdi Army and called for attacks against Americans in order to encourage troops to leave Iraq. The camaraderie of our crew through this intense time will stand as a special moment and a lasting memory from this tour. It was the people I directly served with, some of whom I had also worked with in the past, that had a lasting impact on me. It takes huge dedication and talent to learn to work together and complete the mission during intense times. We also felt a huge sense of pride putting out stories of hard-working military teams throughout Iraq stomping out terrorism, helping villages and healing the sick and wounded during a critical time in history.

I recently returned from my third tour in December 2010 from Southwest Asia. I witnessed and publicized the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and welcomed in Operation New Dawn. I was a part of a reconnaissance mission that hit an 8,000 flight milestone and had been the “eyes and ears” over Iraq and Afghanistan for 20 years. Most of all, I will always remember personally saluting and honoring 20 heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country. Folks, if participating in a human remains (HR) ceremony doesn’t tug at the heart strings or bring a tear to the eye, reminding us of the price we pay for the freedoms we fight for, you may be in the wrong profession. These ceremonies also bind us together as a nation as our heroes come home to Dover where families and loved ones wait for their husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, etc.

We are left to continue their legacy, making sure their service wasn’t in vain. I’m sure the families who’ve lost someone won’t forget and neither will I. Sure, you’ll miss your family and friends, and they’ll miss you when you deploy. I have a lovely wife and two daughters that I can barely stand being away from for long periods at a time. But you’ll also gain experiences and a real sense of what’s happening in the Middle East or wherever you deploy. It may be something I didn’t really understand until I deployed for the first time. So, when you’re called to deploy, do what one of my deployed wing commanders used to say and “soak up the sun and sand, and serve honorably.”

Your stories will become legacies and your family will be proud to tell them for years to come – ones that generations will tell for many lifetimes.

Photo: I take time to write in my journal while I wait at a forward operating base (FOB) in Iraq for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to pick us up and take us to our next assignment … or at least to the next FOB to hitch another ride to our next assignment. What am I writing about? How cool it’s going to be to ride in the Blackhawk helicopter that’s coming to pick us up! (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)