Air Mobility Command’s Response Saves Lives

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2011 — In wars, nat­ur­al dis­as­ters and human­i­tar­i­an emer­gen­cies, the Air Mobil­i­ty Command’s real-time glob­al response capa­bil­i­ty saves lives and brings peo­ple home, Air Force Gen. Ray­mond E. Johns Jr. said this week.

Johns, who com­mands AMC based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., spoke to reporters here at a Defense Writ­ers Group brief­ing.

“We know that no mat­ter where in the world [a defense action or dis­as­ter occurs], some­thing has to get there and we’re going to be tak­ing it,” Johns said.

The com­mand pro­vides rapid glob­al mobil­i­ty and sus­tain­ment for the U.S. armed forces. The com­mand also pro­vides crit­i­cal human­i­tar­i­an sup­port at home and around the world.

AMC employs C-17 Globe­mas­ter III, C-5M Galaxy and Super Galaxy air­craft.

The 135,000 men and women of AMC are active-duty Air Force, Air Nation­al Guard, Air Force Reserve and civil­ians. Togeth­er they per­form and sup­port air­lift, aer­i­al refu­el­ing, spe­cial air mis­sions and aeromed­ical evac­u­a­tion.

And as the air com­po­nent of the U.S. Trans­porta­tion Com­mand, AMC pro­vides air­lift to sup­port geo­graph­ic com­bat­ant com­mands around the globe.

In land­locked Afghanistan, the com­mand flies food, water, ammu­ni­tion and fuel pri­mar­i­ly using air-and-ground trans­port and sup­ply routes called the North­ern Dis­tri­b­u­tion Net­work and less fre­quent­ly the south­ern route over Pak­istan and the Khy­ber Pass and into Afghanistan.

Some­times, like last year, the com­mand has to find alter­nate routes into Afghanistan.

“I nev­er knew there were vol­ca­noes in Ice­land,” Johns said, refer­ring to the Eyjafjoell vol­cano there whose ash clouds closed air­space for six days in April 2010 over west­ern and north­ern Europe, affect­ing 100,000 flights, includ­ing AMC’s.

“We start[ed] tak­ing off on the west coast to go through Hawaii, Japan, Sin­ga­pore and Diego [Gar­cia in the Cha­gos Islands] to get into the back door [in Afghanistan],” he said.

“I was 20-per­cent less effi­cient but I was still able to flow,” Johns added. “I always have to be pre­pared for what hap­pens if Moth­er Nature or some­body takes an action, so I’m always going through those what-if drills because at the end of the day I can­not stop the sup­port [the troops] need.”

To move troops in and out of Afghanistan, Johns said he uses com­mer­cial con­trac­tors.

“Nine­ty per­cent of all pas­sen­ger move­ments occur with our com­mer­cial con­trac­tors,” he said, adding that this year they will spend about $2.5 bil­lion on com­mer­cial con­trac­tors to move sol­diers, sailors and Marines. Con­trac­tors will also car­ry about 37 per­cent of total car­go.

“I am basi­cal­ly 10 times more expen­sive to move by air ver­sus sur­face but I’m very effec­tive,” Johns said. “I need to be used to the max, but if I have a [choice about how] to move folks in and out, I pre­fer sur­face.”

Air­drop is also crit­i­cal to the job in Afghanistan, he said.

“In 2005 we did about 2 mil­lion pounds of air­drop; in 2010, 60 mil­lion pounds; this year, 90 mil­lion pounds,” Johns said. Every month, he added, his unit drops 6,000 4-foot-by-4-foot bun­dles of food, water, ammo and fuel into Afghanistan.

“There are places [in Afghanistan] where get­ting them their sup­plies is very risky by land con­veyance, so they become more and more depen­dent on our air­drop,” the com­man­der said.

“Even as they’re mov­ing around the coun­try, I can air­drop wher­ev­er they are,” he added.

Although coali­tion and U.S. troops are draw­ing down in Afghanistan, Johns expects air­drops to increase by 10 per­cent in 2012.

In March, as Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn was ramp­ing up in Libya, Johns said his com­mand was well-served by mis­sion analy­ses it had already done for Mid­dle East and North African coun­tries involved in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave of protests called Arab Spring.

When Johns got the call about Libya, he said, he knew the Unit­ed States under Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welch could move fight­ers down from U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He also need­ed 24 KC-135 and four KC-10 aer­i­al refu­el­ing tankers and help from the Nation­al Guard and Reserve.

Johns called Brig. Gen. Roy E. Upte­graff III, com­man­der of the 171st Air Refu­el­ing Wing of the Penn­syl­va­nia Air Nation­al Guard in Coraopo­lis, Pa.

“I say, ‘Roy, I’m not sure what we’re all get­ting into at this point but I need a gen­er­al offi­cer and I need a tanker guy. Will you take this mis­sion?’ and Upte­graff said, ‘I got it,’ ” Johns added.

“With­in a day or a day and a half we had 534 air­men mobi­lized to get to Mor?n [Air Base in Spain]. The next day we launched our arma­da of tankers under [Air Force Maj. Gen. Mar­garet Wood­ward, com­man­der of the 17th Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Africa] to meet up with the fight­ers to start this response,” Johns said.

“We were there with 24 and 4 [tankers] almost overnight,” he said. “The response was amaz­ing.”

So far in Libya, Johns said, “I have 2,400 sor­ties and 146 mil­lion pounds of fuel offloaded and we have [aeri­al­ly refu­eled] 11,000 receivers.

“If you think about what’s that done, it’s allowed [coali­tion air­craft] to stay over­head Libya … and keep [Muam­mar Gadhafi’s] mil­i­tary at bay so that nation can go through the tran­si­tion it’s going through. So to me [the con­tri­bu­tion] is huge,” Johns said.

The com­mand has also deliv­ered life-sav­ing human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance in every recent nat­ur­al dis­as­ter, includ­ing Japan’s mag­ni­tude 9.0 earth­quake and nuclear dis­as­ter in March.

“In 2010 we were doing the Afghan plus-up [of 30,000 troops] and the Iraq draw­down,” Johns said, in addi­tion to pro­vid­ing assis­tance after Haiti’s mag­ni­tude 7.0 earth­quake in Jan­u­ary, Chile’s mag­ni­tude 8.8 earth­quake in Feb­ru­ary, the Gulf of Mex­i­co oil spill in April, Pak­istan floods in July and oth­ers.

“One thing that’s very inter­est­ing about our com­mu­ni­ty is our abil­i­ty to respond in real time,” he said. “Because we respond across the spec­trum, I can’t say talk to me in two weeks. I have to be able to go tonight. And the Guard and reserve have to be equal­ly trained and ready because [they are] two thirds of what we do.

“We are very nim­ble because of the nature of our busi­ness. We have to be,” Johns said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)