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DV airlift - a team sport essential to mission success

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jason Wolf
  • 310th Airlift Squadron commander
In my time as commander of the "Finest DV Airlift Squadron on the Face of the Planet," I've learned a few truths: 1) there's no substitute for proper, detailed planning. 2) The DV is never late; he just accomplished an itinerary change, and didn't tell you in advance. 3) Teamwork is essential to safe, successful mission accomplishment. It's this third and most important item I'd like to focus on in this article.

We're talking about a simple task - carry a combatant commander accompanied by seven staff members across the U.S. or to another country, while avoiding hazardous weather and other aircraft. Transiting busy airspace, drop them off at a predetermined location, service the aircraft, and depart three hours later to another location. Each day, DV airlift crews from MacDill, Andrews, Chievres, Hickam and Ramstein conduct countless airlift missions just like this. Yet carrying these high-level passengers to and from their destinations with safety, reliability and comfort requires concerted teamwork to get it done right.

DV missions begin in the office of the vice chief of staff of the Air Force, Special Airlift Missions branch. Prioritizing airlift requests, scheduling for max aircraft utilization and deconflicting essential maintenance is a constant shell game which pauses only momentarily while an aircraft transitions from one mission to another. At the tasked base, the Operations Support Squadron's Mission Development Flight then begins initial mission planning . They request diplomatic clearances, perform a check of Notices to Airmen, evaluating runway and taxiway closures, operating hours, servicing and other airfield restrictions. This first step is crucial; identifying roadblocks and removing them (or finding ways to work around them) before mission execution enables mission success.

Approximately seven to 10 days prior to an overseas mission, or three to five days prior to a stateside mission, aircrew schedulers within the squadron assemble the right mix of Airmen to execute the tasking. They balance training needs with aircrew qualifications, health, and schedule availability. Squadron aviation resource management personnel assemble the mission orders, mission critical documents and a myriad of administrative support, including details such as passports and/or visas for overseas trips. Finally, the crew receives the mission and begins their detailed mission planning, contacting base or airfield agencies at enroute stops, checking flight plans, confirming parking, servicing and arranging lodging and ground transportation.

Aircraft commanders sometimes work with the Defense Attaché Office, whose officers act as coordinators with foreign personnel to overcome logistics roadblocks . Flight engineers evaluate servicing availability and obstacles, flight attendants plan meals, and all details are confirmed with contacts within the DV's staff. Finally, when all is in order, the crew - the team - is ready to begin the mission.

To provide 5-star service to a four-star takes a team of MVPs. Weather forecasters, tower controllers, ground maintenance and support personnel are at the top of the list. As crews file their flight plans, they evaluate weather from origination to destination including flight level winds and temperatures, hazards such as turbulence, icing and thunderstorms.
The quality and depth of this information directly impacts the route of flight selection, mission timing and safety of those aboard the aircraft. Next, ground, tower and enroute air traffic controllers guide the aircraft safely from parking location to the runway, climbout and throughout the enroute structure. They ensure separation between hazards such as other aircraft, birds, and turbulence, many of which a crew may never see. Upon arrival, Transient Alert personnel direct the aircraft to a safe parking location as the DV and party deplane. An on-time arrival for the party is essential to ensure enough time to travel to their next event.

During often brief ground times, DV airlift crews rely on host base support including fuels, fleet service, weather, airfield management, and others who handle water, ice and trash. Sometimes aircraft need repair before the next leg of a mission; transient maintenance is used to get the jet "right for flight." Thirty minutes before the party arrives at the jet, the crew is in position with flight clearance received, takeoff briefing complete and ready for another journey (repeated as often as the DV itinerary demands).

In all cases, the aircrew receives a critique - which measures performance in many categories. The high marks for outstanding performance result from teamwork in planning and execution. Much like a football team who fails to score in the red zone, poor marks on critiques result from an inability to execute - often caused by a breakdown in communication, teamwork, or planning. Our squadron's marks average 4.8 out of 5 stars in seven categories, which I attribute to great teamwork with our partners in airlift - the medical, mission support, and maintenance professionals who work behind the scenes, and sometimes on the scene, to help ensure our four star leaders are transported with safety, comfort, and reliability.

Thank you for what you do, each and every day.