'Red Ball Express' keeps everything moving in eastern Afghanistan
March 7, 2012
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (March 7, 2012) -- The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade's Task Force Atlas has found a way to free up helicopters, saving the Army time and money in the process.
Roads in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains are treacherous, and keeping troops resupplied so they can conduct their daily missions relies mostly on air power.
Using combat helicopters to ferry supplies, however, puts a strain on combat missions.
The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade's Task Force Atlas has found a way to free up helicopters, saving the Army time and money in the process. They began a flight called the "Red Ball Express," where a small commuter plane used to ferry supplies and passengers throughout Regional Command-East.
While the pilots are civilian, TF Atlas Soldiers handle all cargo and passenger management. At each stop, they sign over cargo and perform a joint inventory to make sure nothing goes missing during transportation.
"Flying from FOB (forward operating base) to FOB to deliver parts has been one of the best experiences I've had this entire deployment, and it makes the time go by quicker," said Spc. Michael Bresett.
The brigade's more than 170 helicopters require massive amounts of parts to continue operating in the harsh Afghan environment. Since the helicopters are dispersed throughout five major locations across RC-East, the mission of distributing those parts is hefty.
"Getting the parts out quickly and [keeping] the helicopters up helps not only the brigade but all of Regional Command-East," said Staff Sgt. Justin Pellack, one of the Red Ball's three crew chiefs.
Task Force Poseidon began a joint venture with CJTF-1 and the 257th JMCB air cell to use a contracted civilian plane to move parts and equipment throughout region. As a result, parts are getting to the locations that need them most in less than half the time. A part that used to take more than 48 hours to deliver now gets there in about 17 hours.
"Being able to free up our pilots and crews to do more mission-specific combat operations feels great," said Pellack. "I like knowing I'm a part of that."
A helicopter that sat on the ground unable to fly for four days previously is now out of the fight for less than a day; enabling the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade to fly more hours per airframe than any brigade has been able to do in the history of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Aircraft movement is done through a civilian contract company, traveling more than 450 miles a day to deliver as many mission-essential parts as possible across RC-East.
Each Forward Operating Base has a liaison noncommissioned officer that receives the parts and makes sure they are delivered from the airstrip to the maintenance hangers at each task force.
The Red Ball is more than a parts aircraft, though. It's carries a precious commodity to Soldiers in remote locations.
"We also take our time to make sure all the Soldiers in out-lying FOBs receive their mail," said Sgt. John Sapp. Sapp is the third member of the military team on-board the Red Ball. "This was a great idea."
Soldiers get a faster, more comfortable ride between locations. During the winter, temperatures have dropped dramatically, particularly in the high mountain passes aircraft must pass through to reach outlying FOBs. The Red Ball plane is much like a civilian flight, with heat and comfortable seats, which something your average commuter might take for granted, but something Soldiers don't often get to appreciate.
"It was a smooth trip," said 1st Lt. Erica Robinson. "Everything was so well organized and comfortable. I enjoyed it; I really did. Everything was just right."
The Red Ball Express has moved more than 2,000 Soldiers and civilians across the battlefield, allowing Task Force Poseidon helicopters to be used on other high-priority missions. The tiny crew and their tiny planes have also moved more than 200 tons of cargo throughout RC-East in the past four months.
The name "Red Ball Express" comes from one of World War II's most massive logistics operations, manned primarily by African-American Soldiers. The trucks kept gasoline and other vital supplies rolling to the frontlines as American troops pushed the Germans out of France and back toward Berlin.
At its peak, the original Red Ball Express operated 5,958 vehicles and carried 12,342 tons of supplies to the front.