ROTA, Spain — For weeks spanning January and February, Naval Station Rota was the home-away-from-home and duty station for about 50 of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division Soldiers.
“The Gateway to the Mediterranean,” as the U.S. Navy refers to Rota, is a strategic base that has both pier and airfield capabilities for personnel and equipment movement in and out of the Central Command area of operation.
During that month, approximately 57 aircraft, and limited numbers of containers and rolling-stock, belonging to the CAB passed through on their way to all regional commands in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. NAVSTA Rota is the primary and most cost effective base utilized to move Army aircraft in and out of Afghanistan.
“Besides saving money, it rehearses and demonstrates the joint flavor of our service and our Department of Defense,” said Lt. Col. Danford A. Kern, commander of the 127th Aviation Support Battalion, CAB, 1st AD. “Our young, company-grade officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers get an opportunity to work with their sister services and see how they are all a part of a bigger picture. It reminds people that we are part of a team of teams.”
The three-phase process of moving aircraft was a joint operation involving Soldiers of the 127th ASB, Surface Distribution and Deployment Command, Air Force Air Mobility Liaison Officers, Navy Vessel Support and Tactical Air Support for Maritime Operations.
Kern gives credit to the people who are permanent party in Rota for enabling a smooth operation.
“We recognized right away that there was a high level of expertise,” he said. “We fell in on it, established priorities and responsibilities, and worked really well together. It was a team effort from all players.”
The first step was receiving and off-loading the aircraft from the commercial vessels, which had roll-on/roll-off capabilities and originally shipped out of Beaumont, Texas, in December 2012.
Next, the equipment was transported from the pier to the airfield towed by Naval Supply Systems Command. This phase included equipment preparation for strategic airlift to Afghanistan.
The final phase was aircraft upload on to C-5M Galaxy airplanes from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., out of C-5M Galaxy 9th Airlift Squadron. Three airplanes were dedicated to the CAB’s mission, and they flew a total of 25 flights carrying the equipment to Afghanistan.
“The Air Force did an exceptional job of ensuring that we were well-informed about the flights,” said Kern. “Their Joint Inspection team did a great job of making sure we got the loads done quickly.”
In conjunction with the support personnel in Rota, the CAB had technical inspectors who inspected aircraft prior to off-loading of the vessel, and who were also responsible for oversight of all aircraft joint inspections. Battalion unit movement officers were present overseeing joint inspections, equipment preparation and staging, and equipment up-load onto the C-5s. Material handling equipment operators, integrated computerized deployment system planners, hazardous material certifiers, medics, vehicle operators, pallet builders and defense travel systems operators filled out the team from Fort Bliss.
“We took a team over there that was hand-selected to go do a mission, that required them to be able to operate on their own with task and purpose, and be able to go out and execute with minimal supervision,” said Kern. “They did exactly that and performed extremely well.”
“As a logistical officer with a transportation background, this was a great mission as a support officer,” said Capt. Grahame Forestal, 127th ASB support operations officer. “It is where the rubber meets the road – a true multimodal operation.”