Desert University gives Airmen realistic deployment training

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Miles Wilson
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Three aerial delivery personnel walked through dust and shrubs, avoiding the cacti and thistles, searching for a pallet that was dropped from 18,000 feet just over an hour ago. The sun was setting on the horizon, giving the mountains in the distance an eerie look and casting long, slender shadows over the flat terrain, making their search difficult.

Suddenly, one of the team members shouted out, pointing to a pile of wood, plastic and cardboard honeycomb about 100 feet away.

The training exercise, called Desert University Training, took place from Dec. 14 to 19 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and called for operations that would prepare units within the 94th Airlift Wing for deployment in January 2015. The operations were run by Air Force Reserve Command as a joint exercise, as it included Army units working alongside the 94th Operations Support Group, the 94th Maintenance Group, 700th Airlift Squadron and 80th Aerial Port Squadron.  

"This training allows for our members, both old and new, to work together," said Lt. Col. Terence Green, 94th OSS mission commander. "The operations we are conducting mirror what goes on in the desert during deployments."

The following day, aircrews performed more high altitude airdrops to further improve the skills of loadmasters and pilots from the 700th AS and aerial delivery personnel from the 80th APS. On the third day, the training shifted to be more pilot-oriented.

"The training was great," said Capt. Reid Woody, 700th AS U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules pilot. "We learned a lot. I think we have a better understanding of the JPAD (Joint Precision Airdrop Delivery) system which will help prepare us for future deployments."

U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircrafts circled the mountain ranges in the distance several times, until one broke formation, heading in a bee line perpendicular to the long line of packed dirt underneath it. Suddenly, the plane took a wide turn, angling to the left sharply until it was in line with the improvised runway and touched down. The plane sped by, creating a gust of wind and a heavy wall of dust and dirt trailing behind it. After reaching the end of the runway, the Hercules turned around and then left as quickly as it came.

"Most of our landings will be on dirt runways in a deployed location and the altitudes that we were operating at [for this exercise] are also very similar," Woody said.

The Hercules' took turns landing and taking off with the pilots inside taking turns landing the aircraft. After half an hour, one of the C-130s came in to land, but instead flew right over the runway, only to turn and make a complete circle and come in for another landing. The winds over the desert raged up in the sky as a C-130 overhead was knocked to the side and again passed over the runway.

The plane made another turn, wider this time, and was finally able to come in for a landing.

"We need to be proficient and prepared to land on dirt," said Green. "That's all they will have when they deploy."

The training utilized many different assets that are not normally used, such as the use of oxygen and self-guiding pallet delivery systems.

"We don't usually use oxygen masks or hoses because they aren't required [for local missions]," said Staff Sgt. Matt Massey, 700th AS loadmaster. "At home we perform standard training and drops, but nothing above 10,000 feet."

Current training standards require aircrew to have supplemental oxygen at altitudes above 10,000 feet. The pilots and loadmasters do not utilize this equipment on a regular basis, as it is not needed in most missions that they operate.

The training had been taxing, mixed with long nights spent looking for pallets in the dark, long days flying against 20 knot winds, and mornings spent packing together pallets to drop.

"Every moment has been used to prepare for obstacles that we are not used to seeing," said Massey. "This training has been worth its weight in gold to us."