AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
Imagine a board game where players work with thousands of moving parts against time to meet deadlines.
Team Aviano recently accomplished that feat to participate in Exercise Red Flag 16-3, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which kicked off July 8, 2016.
“No other country in the world can load up more than 250 personnel, 184,000 pounds of cargo and fly more than a dozen fighter jets half way around the world just to train,” said Lt. Col. Vincent O’Connor, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and detachment commander.
Several 31st Fighter Wing squadrons began planning for Red Flag months ago to ensure a timely departure for the Nevada desert.
“I began coordination with Airmen from the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 555th FS and Nellis AFB, approximately five months ago to see what personnel and equipment were needed to map out an appropriate timeline,” said Staff Sgt. Sara Farruggia, 31st Maintenance Squadron unit deployment manager.
Once she knew the maintenance and fighter squadrons’ needs, Farruggia worked with Nellis AFB to determine what they could provide.
“We have to know what type of flights will take place, and then the 31st AMXS creates a list of equipment needed for work on the aircraft day or night,” said Farruggia. “It’s constant coordination throughout those months to make the list as small as possible to save money on travel but not to over-burden [Nellis AFB].”
Leading up to the departure date, Farruggia and her alternate UDM worked long hours to ensure all cargo was checked off and personnel were prepared for the pre-deployment line.
“Timelines are the deal breaker. Deadlines must be met or it could have a massive impact on the deployment times, aircraft departures or personnel availability,” said Farruggia. “Our office worked hand-in-hand with the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron to make sure we met those deadlines.”
More than 30 personnel from the 31st LRS inspected the cargo and processed personnel for Red Flag.
“Everyone in my office stands up for these movements so we can manage flight manifests, cargo inspections and the PDF line,” said Master Sgt. James Wall, 31st LRS chief of air operations. “Our work started months back to secure the aircraft for all the cargo, and then we helped both maintenance squadrons trim down their list of equipment.”
When units transport cargo through international airspace to different countries, the air operations section must obtain diplomatic clearances for the equipment and aircraft. For this Red Flag exercise, a C-5 Galaxy was approved to transport more than 70 increments of cargo.
“A single increment could be a pallet with 100 pieces of equipment, and we had to make sure each piece met safety standards in order to fly on the aircraft,” said Wall. “We kept close communication with all squadrons that sent equipment so we could process cargo in time to load it onto the C-5.”
According to Wall, flight times are the most crucial part in a large scale movement of cargo and personnel.
“There is only a small window of opportunity once the rubber hits the road,” added Wall. “We must remain flexible and get everything inspected and loaded within that window.”
The final stop-gap for cargo inspections and personnel clearance is the 724th Air Mobility Squadron Airmen, who provide a system of checks and balances.
“It’s our job to get the cargo out on time and safely,” said Master Sgt. David Dries, 724th AMS aircraft services flight chief. “We are here to prevent any mishaps and we do that through communication with the other units to see what it is being loaded and when inspections need to be performed.”
The 724th AMS provided a lead joint inspector who teamed with representatives from other units for a final cargo check.
“We make sure everything is properly documented as far as size, center of balance and weight,” said Dries. “The joint inspection has to be done to ensure the aircraft has a good center of balance so the plane can travel safely.”
As the clock ticks closer and closer to departure time, every step becomes more critical.
“The cargo was in-processed to the cargo yard three to five days before departure, and everything was inspected and ready to go no later than six hours prior,” said Dries. “After we gave the final approval, all the equipment was loaded up and ready to go.”
The C-5 departed shortly after a commercial jet with Red Flag personnel left the tarmac, headed for Nellis AFB.
“There was a lot of work involved and a lot of people that helped bring the F-16s to Nevada,” said Wall. “This was a logistical success that helps create a sharper team.”
While training continues at Red Flag, the Aviano deployment team continues to manage the many board game pieces to ready Team Aviano for their next mission.