Thursday, March 21, 2013

Uhhh... About Last Weekend

Here's the deal. The exercise involved four airfield locations, three of which are located on the mainland and another which is located on an island about 40 miles or so off of the So Cal coast. The plan was to drive from our base, located in Riverside, to an Armed forces Reserve airfield  called Los Alamitos. There, we were supposed to board a C-17 and fly out to San Clemente Island where we would offload our equipment, spend the night and then fly back to Los Al the next day.

 As luck would have it, the weather was not cooperating with the tactical plan that the AF had done such a great job developing. The island was pretty much socked in for most of each day of the exercise. On most days, there was only a few hours that the fog lifted enough to allow the aircraft to land. As the AF wanted everyone to attain their training objectives, they simply modified the plan to eliminate the weather on the island as a factor.

As it turned out, instead of going to San Clemente Island, we ended up at March Field, which is basically our home airfield. What are the odds - drive to an airport 45 miles away only to be flown back to our doorstep!

Remember, this is a training exercise - both for organizations such as ours and for the USAF reserves. The AF training objectives are to haul the needed equipment to a remote location, set up functioning airfield operation,  then prepare, load and transport cargo and personnel to other participating airfields. After completing the exercise, the ground components load all of their stuff up and return to their home bases.

Our training objectives were a little different. Flying the people of our team and the bajillion pounds of rescue related equipment is a daunting task. Everything must be weighed and packaged according to AF specs. The vehicles have to be weighed, measured and the center of gravity determined. All hazardous materials have to be packaged properly, documented properly and packaged in a manner that doesn't cause problems. Of course the above tasks involve a lot of paperwork which must be completed properly or the load will not be flown. As each site and us are being trained, each operation will be done at least twice, some will be done three times.

Many other organizations participate in this exercise, the Coast Guard, FBI, other rescue teams and some other entities whom I never did figure out who they were. 

Though I was a little disappointed, I tried to focus on the fact that was a training exercise and that depite the change in plans, almost everyone was getting the same training, just at a different locatiion than was planned. For a plan "B", it worked out pretty well.

As noted earlier, all of our cargo has to be weighed, measured and properly documented. We did it, then the AF did it then all of the paperwork was checked. As redundant as it seemed, it was a great way for the new people to learn.

As an added bonus, everybody got the chance to pet the dogs!

Teamwork makes all of these tasks a lot easier. We were told  that not everybody is as team oriented as our group, that is a shame. I really enjoy working with the USAF reservists, my experience has been nothing but positive.

Documentation is the key. If it isn't on paper, it didn't happen or it doesn't exist. As long as you know that going in, it doesn't seem that intrusive.

Ultimately, all of the measurements, documentation and other mundane chores is to ensure the flight is conducted as safely as possible. The lessons learned in the past were paid for in blood. 

When loading a multi-bajillion dollar aircraft, one must be careful not to damage the aircraft. Here, as in all other aspects of the operation, teamwork ensures success.

Petting dogs calms people down and relieves stress. I recommend everyone do it at least once a day.

 Actually, five time a day would be better.

 Of course the entire process has to be repeated on the return trip. Some of it was completed on the evening of the first day, just after we arrived. The rest was completed the next morning before boarding the plane. I can assure you that all of the paperwork was in order.

You realize how important all of the preparation is when you are seated in the aircraft before the flight. You sit along the side of the aircraft, facing inward and the cargo is strapped to the floor of the aircraft, often just a couple feet away from your face. On some of these flights, a high performance take off is performed, the acceleration and g-forces are a bit higher than on your typical commercial flight. When you see the vehicles shift on their springs as a result of these forces, you really appreciate that everyone did their job properly and that stuff is truly secure. You also appreciate that the weight and balance calculations were done properly.

Just like the flight out, we were in the air less than 15 minutes. Before we knew it, we were unloading the aircraft, loading our semi and headed home. It was a successful mission for the team. Several newer members applied all of their "book learning" for the first time, others refreshed their skills and learned some updated information. One old photographer got to take some photos and learned some things as well.

I hope you had a good weekend, just as I did. I am working on my taxes and I am almost done. I hope you have a great week and don't forget to pet the dogs.

Thanks for reading,


PS - if you want to learn more about this exercise, go to you tube and search for Patriot Hook 2013. Several videos that were produced by the Air Force Reserves will appear. 

Thanks again.

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