SOUTHWEST ASIA --- Big changes are in the works for two Air National Guard units deployed to the 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia.
The Connecticut ANG has transitioned from the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the C-21 Cougar to the C-130H Hercules, which it is currently flying on its first C-130 deployment. On the other hand, the Charlotte ANG, out of North Carolina, will be flying its last Hercules mission as it prepares to transition to the C-17 Globemaster III.
Whether big or small, change brings many challenges. In the case of flying new aircraft, these challenges include incorporating new procedures and personnel requirements, among others.
“On a C-17 you don’t have navigators or engineers, so just the manning document itself is going to change,” explained Lt. Col. Gary Dodge, the 737th EAS commander. “The logistics – the buildings, the training, the air frames – it’s a huge puzzle. Trying to make that transition is challenging, but I’m sure it’ll be successful.”
One piece of this puzzle is training maintainers in the skills they’ll need to keep their new aircraft flying sorties. For Charlotte ANG members, this means learning the ins and outs of the Globemaster III, while Connecticut ANG members focus on the Hercules.
“You’re basically taking people with different skill sets and teaching them about the C-130, which is an extremely difficult airplane to employ, just because of the diverse role,” said Maj. Paul Fiasconaro, the 737th EAS director of operations.
This diverse role includes everything from air drops to flights requiring night vision goggles. Furthermore, many of the Connecticut ANG pilots are used to taking off and landing on larger runways, but C-130 missions often require landing on a small dirt strip, Fiasconaro explained.
Although the Connecticut ANG has been flying C-130s since 2013, a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve has provided them lots of opportunities to fly sorties and gain experience with their new aircraft. Additionally, they work closely with the Charlotte ANG to learn from their experiences with the Hercules.
“Our aircrew, our maintenance folks are all learning from Charlotte (ANG Airmen) so it’s taking a squadron that’s very new in the C-130 up against a squadron that’s been doing it for a very long time and doing it very well,” said Fiasconaro.
Armed with these advantages and opportunities to learn and grow, the two units have much to look forward to, whether it’s their first or last deployment with the C-130.
Dodge said he and other members of the Charlotte ANG recognize the historical significance of this deployment, and look forward to not only flying one last C-130 deployment but also ensuring future success for the Connecticut ANG as well.
“We were all raising our hand to volunteer and for me to actually get the opportunity to be the commander during that time frame has been a great honor,” said Dodge. “I’m surrounded by great talent not only from Charlotte but from Connecticut as well.”