Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Guest Blog Post - Chris Van Gorder

Today we were up very early to fly from Rota Naval Base, Spain to Royal Air Forces Mildenhall in Great Britain and Royal Air Forces Lakenheath.  We will stay in Cambridge tonight.

Our U.S. Air Force day started even before we landed.  Our C-17 flight crew decided to demonstrate a "modified assault landing" - the same type of landing required in combat situations - the same type of landing used in Iraq.

The safest place to avoid being shot at or shot down is right above the airport or air base.  As a result, during this combat landing maneuver, the C-17 makes a rapid descent over the airport by making tight turns and dropping altitude quickly - we were told it is a 180 mph descent dropping from about 30,000 ft to 10,000 feet in a matter of a few seconds.  We were prepared by the crew and all loose material secured so it would not fly around the cabin during the maneuver.  We were also well secured with our seat belts.  The Crew Chief/Loadmaster, gave us a warning and then. As the maneuver started, turned the cabin lights from white to combat red and down we went.  It was steep and noisy but easy to tell that this was a maneuver our crew had well in hand.  The lights in the cabin were turned from red to green as we got to our proper altitude.  The second step would have had us drop right down to the runway but British air traffic controllers would not let our crew proceed with the second step due to weather.  Instead, we made a short runway landing which required full reverse on the jet engines and heavy breaking when we touched down - and our huge C-17 stopped on the landing in about 1,000 ft.  This was an amazing demonstration of flying, tactics and it was great fun for us too - roller-coaster in the sky.

After we got off the aircraft at Mildenhall, we were met by Col. Eden Murrie - Commander of the base and her Vice Commander, Col. Scott Brumbaugh.

The weather was heavy overcast but we were told it was the best weather the base had seen in several days.  The command planned an air show for the JCOC but had not been able to practice due to very poor weather yesterday.  Nevertheless, the demonstration went on.

We were taken to an observation deck above the base air terminal and the show began.  We saw a KC-130 fly by in a simulated refueling of several F-15 strike fighters.  We also saw the Air Force Special Operations team attack the airfield on their quads and motorcycles in a simulated attack coordinated with the special operations team that parachuted out of a C-130.  This Special Ops unit coordinated with the assault team on the ground and the supporting F-15s and A-10 Warthogs.  The ground assault called in support from the aircraft and they did their jobs.

When the demonstration was complete, our Air Forces Europe Briefing was conducted by Major General James Hunt - Director of Air and Space Operations USAFE.  General Hunt made an excellent historical and detailed presentation regarding the history of USAFE and current activities.  He also discussed NATO and the desire of former Soviet Bloc nations wanting admission to NATO.  He told us of a member of the Polish government who commented at a reception the General attended  - "We have been waiting for you for 40 years - don't ever leave us again."

The Air Force staff we saw today was generous with their time and with many of their resources.  The rest of the day was spent watching a weapons load demonstration (wow, do those airman do that fast - but with precision); F-15 engine display; KC-130 display with the same pilots that flew the demonstration in the morning; a visit with F-15 pilots and their aircraft; explosive ordinance detection unit; Special Tactics Unit; Military working dog demonstration and a chance to fly an F-15 in a simulator (yes, quite a highlight).

We also had lunch with Air Force officers and enlisted personnel.  I was able to share lunch with Senior Airman Keith Garrie.  Keith is an Air Policeman, loves his job and had nothing but positives to share about his military experiences.

The day concluded with a dinner at 500 year-old St. John's College in Cambridge.  Beautiful and historical.

To cap my day off, I was able to meet and have dinner at St. John's College with Colonel Kenneth McDonnell, M.D. - Commander of the 48th Medical Group.  The 48th Medical Group is called the "Liberty Medics."  Given what we both do for a living we had a wonderful discussion of challenges and opportunities with Air Force medicine and private sector medicine.  As I left for the evening, Col. McDonnell gave me one of his personal "challenge coins."  Many of you will know what that means.

Tomorrow - up again very early for a flight in a C-130 for a day with the U.S. Army Europe.

Until next time -


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