146th Airmen take to the skies to support Operation Enduring Freedom Published Sept. 26, 2011 By Maj. Kimberly Holman 146th Airlift Wing CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Calif. -- More than 250 members of the 146th Airlift Wing out of Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme have deployed over the last few months to support Operation Enduring Freedom. Most recently, five of the wing's C-130J aircraft flew to Afghanistan with a full complement of aircrew and maintenance crew. Joining them in this current deployment are members of the 146th's Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Civil Engineering Squadron and Air Terminal Operations Squadron. All squadrons will be deployed for three months and will support the primary mission of providing airlift and airdrop to forward operating bases, many within the country of Afghanistan. One group of maintenance and aircrew from this deployment departed Channel Islands Air National Guard Station for Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2011. A crowd of family and friends stood near a massive C-130 on the flightline to say their farewells to their loved ones, and some of the deployers and family members got the chance to speak with local media who were there for the departure. Birthdays, holidays, the first day of school; all of these occasions and more would be missed. Many shared their reasons why saying good-bye would be so hard for them. "My daughter starts first grade in two weeks," said Staff Sgt. Michael E. Reyes who has been to the Middle East as a former Navy Seabee but is deploying with the 146th for the first time. "I'm sad that I'll miss it, but we all know it's a part of the sacrifice we make." Reyes works on the electrical systems of the C-130J, an aircraft which has highly advanced systems, eliminating the need for a human navigator or flight engineer onboard. The need for maintainers of these complex systems like Reyes is critical. "We have to go," he said. "Our roles are important." The 146th Operations and Maintenance crews are working alongside Rhode Island's 143rd Airlift Wing, another C-130J unit. Together, upon arrival at Bagram Air Field, the two units became the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. "The primary way the forward operating bases get supplies is by airlift or airdrop. We are their lifeline of sustainment," said Lt. Col. Bill Willson, 774th EAS commander. Airlift/airdrop in turn helps to reduce the number of dangerous supply convoys crisscrossing Afghan roads. In their first month alone, the 774th EAS flew more than 900 sorties with a 99.9 percent sortie effectiveness rate, completing approximately 40 airdrops and delivering more than 3,100 tons of cargo. The wing's C-130J aircraft boast numerous major technology and computer upgrades which allow it to cruise faster for longer distances, climb to greater altitudes more quickly, take off and land in a shorter distance and has a greater hauling capacity (due to 15 extra feet in the fuselage) than the preceding C-130 versions. Additionally, the C-130J can perform airdrops from higher altitudes more accurately, making airdrop missions in combat area of operations much safer for the aircrew. These two units have been deploying together since 2004, and deployed together even earlier prior to 9/11 when both units previously flew the older C-130Es. They consider themselves one big family, according to leadership. "We complement each other very well," Willson said. "One of the nice things about the Guard is you stay with the same people for sometimes decades. Most of the pilots here I have flown with for 20 years." As members of the wing continue to arrive at their deployment locations throughout September, more statistics and numbers will be gathered to report on their successes as well.