Airmen Save Aircraft From Enemy Mortars

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Soriano, left, connects a brake temperature sensor harness cannon plug to the brake temperature sensor while Tech. Sgt. Gregory Bernett attaches brake assembly and harness hardware on Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2012. Soriano and Bernett are a part of a seven-man mission recovery team assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron. The team is taking part in a mission to recover a downed C-17 Globemaster III. U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Soriano, left, connects a brake temperature sensor harness cannon plug to the brake temperature sensor while Tech. Sgt. Gregory Bernett attaches brake assembly and harness hardware on Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2012. U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

A seven-man mission recovery team assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron forward deployed to a remote forward operating base in Afghanistan to repair and recover a downed C-17 Globemaster III.

The team headed to FOB Shank, located in the Logar province of Eastern Afghanistan, knowing their mission was critical in saving an important Air Force asset from daily enemy mortar attacks.

“We knew we had a lot of tireless work ahead of us but didn’t know the extent of the damage until we actually had eyes on the C-17,” said Master Sgt. Roy Lee, 8th EAMS MRT member. “We knew we had to work quickly and efficiently to get that aircraft out of FOB Shank. The base and flightline take mortar fire on a daily basis.”

The C-17 made a hard landing on the short runway and sustained significant damage. Upon the team’s arrival, the aircraft had 12 flat tires, eight brakes that needed replacing and eight break temperature sensors that needed repairs.

The team worked alongside the Boeing Recovery and Modification Services team to properly jack the aircraft off the ground to begin maintenance. After the first day of work, the team had replaced all tires, brakes and fixed all the break temperature sensors while mortar rounds sporadically hit the surrounding area.

“The Airmen never lost focus on the mission at hand,” said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Bernett, 8th EAMS MRT member deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. “They would hit the ground as shrapnel flew across the flightline, but as soon as it was clear, they were back to work without hesitation. They were determined to get this aircraft air ready.”

Two more 8th EAMS MRT members arrived on the second day to repair a fuel leak that was discovered. During the final day of repairs, a mortar landed approximately 150 yards away from the crew. This was the closest encounter the team had experienced.

“With all the noise on the flightline at the time, we couldn’t hear the ‘Incoming’ warnings,” said Lee, deployed from Joint Base Charleston, S.C. “I was stepping off the aircraft when the mortar hit and I instantly felt the concussion of the explosion. The C-130 Hercules parked next to us sustained damage, so we knew we were fortunate.”

The 8th EAMS Airmen completed their mission in two days and ensured the aircraft could be moved out of the FOB. They knew, with no aircraft maintainers at FOB Shank, this was an important mission to recover this valuable Air Force asset.

“We knew we had a dangerous mission ahead of us, but everyone of us were determined to get that aircraft out of there,” said Senior Airman Benny Vickery, 8th EAMS MRT member deployed from JB Charleston, S.C. “It was a great experience that I will remember for years to come.”

The dedicated and tireless work of these maintainers display the attitude of the Airmen of the 8th EAMS.

“I am extremely proud of my team. As a commander, the one thing that keeps me up at night is when the call comes in to send my people into harm’s way,” said Lt. Col. Louis Hansen, 8th EAMS commander. “When I learned the shrapnel from an attack missed them by mere inches, it really drove this point home. They simply picked themselves up, brushed off the sand and finished repairing the C-17 so we could get it back in the fight. In one word, simply “Awesome!”

Story by Senior Airman Bryan Swink
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

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