At any moment, Airmen from the 115th Airlift Squadron may be called upon to respond globally with their C-130J Hercules aircraft to any number of contingencies.
Stationed out of at the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif., the squadron was most recently called upon to support Exercise Eager Lion from May 25 to June 8.
Their mission: to provide other branches of the U.S. military as well as other partners a chance to practice real-world scenarios with a C-130.
“A lot of the other assets can contribute their own specific part to the mission, but if they need to get men and equipment on the ground fast, and they need to get there undetected, this is really the only machine that allows that to happen,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Sean Smith, a C-130 pilot with the squadron. “I’m hoping the other participants are able to see all the capabilities we provide.”
Back at their home station, the guardsmen from the 115th are called on to respond to a wide variety of missions from aerial firefighting to drug interdiction to humanitarian assistance. Although their role in exercises like Eager Lion slightly differs from their role back in California, they said they are grateful for the experience they gain from participating.
“Actually having the other aircraft in the air and having assets on the ground is great,” said Smith. “From our perspective, there are a lot of pilots who haven’t gotten to see these situations during real-world operations, so some of these scenarios are the most realistic training we’ve seen.”
One such exercise scenario involved F-16 Fighting Falcons escorting the C-130 to a drop zone, a training opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise had. Having interactions like this one is one of the main objectives of Eager Lion – to work closely and enhance mutual military capability.
In addition to the pilots getting to refine their airlift skills, the C-130 crew also gets the chance to refine their maintenance skills in a desert setting.
“With the high temperatures and amount of noise here, it’s a different environment,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Erik Kallstrom, a maintenance officer with the 146th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “During checks, they comb over the whole aircraft, looking for leaks or anything that’s damaged and will keep the aircraft from flying safely.
“We’re getting valuable training out here,” he added. “Our guys are getting the chance to gain a lot of maintenance experience with the fast-paced mission here.”
That’s another objective of Eager Lion – to prepare troops, both U.S. and foreign, to partner with each other during future contingencies. Having a C-130 participate helps develop partnerships by exposing them to a capability they might not otherwise have had the chance to train with.
“When our allies call on us at any moment in time, if those assets are anywhere near them, we will be able to get troops and equipment where they need to be in a timely fashion,” said Smith. “With all the different countries and different aircraft involved, it’s good to see how everything is coming together during Eager Lion.”