By Paul Bello, Belvoir EagleJune 10, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Among the many activities at Davison Army Airfield is the priority air transport of senior Army, DoD, government officials and foreign dignitaries. A task that falls on the shoulders of Fort Belvoir's Operational Support Airlift Agency.
As one of the Army's first multi-component operational units, OSAA merged assets and personnel of the active component and Army National Guard in October 1995. While it's staffed by active-duty Army and National Guard Soldiers and civilians, it remains a field operating agency under the National Guard Bureau. It operates out of 54 states and territories, including Washington, D.C.
Its subsidiary, Operational Support Airlift Command operates four regional flight centers - the largest at Belvoir. Others are at Fort Richardson, Ark.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort Hood, Texas. Besides managing and controlling the four flight centers, OSACOM oversees all National Guard state flight detachments of fixed-wing passenger aircraft. They include the Beechcraft C-12 Huron, Shorts C-23 Sherpa, Fairchild C-26 Metroliner and Cessna UC-35 Citation Ultra.
Col. Michael Bobeck took command of OSAA in November after serving as commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade in Lathan, N.Y. Usually accustomed to flying Chinooks, Hueys and Blackhawk helicopters, Bobeck first began flying fixed-wing planes in 2002. When arriving at OSAA, he admits to being surprised at how much the agency does when it comes to air support service.
"We keep a very busy schedule of transfers, in addition to training Soldiers for future deployments. What's so interesting about this agency is that we have active-duty aviators working with members of our Army National Guard. It's quite unique," Bobeck said. "I believe people immediately think of helicopters when it comes to the Army. But, we fly planes, too."
Col. Steven Nicolucci first started with OSAA eight years ago and came back to the agency in March as its acting deputy commander. Like so many others in OSAA, he participates in operational flying and is fully engaged in staffing for the fixed-wing aircraft. He's also involved with its strategic planning, which he said is projected as far out as 2020.
"In addition to providing expertise in fixed-wing aircraft, we provide headquarters support, maintenance and contractual help on a number of fronts. We also work closely with the U.S. Army's Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker (Ala.) to make sure pilots are getting the training they need," Nicolucci said. "Operating fixed-wing aircraft is more cost effective for the Army to use. As it stands, the Army National Guard has a unique set of airplanes the Army doesn't. That's where we come into the picture."
In addition to flying a variety of leaders and government officials, Nicolucci said it's not uncommon for OSAA to lend a helping hand to the rest of the global community. In January, he said the agency assisted in transporting supplies to Haiti after a devastating earthquake crippled the Caribbean nation.
He's also seen OSAA spring into action and help during the most recent California wildfires and assist with relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina. He said the agency currently has cargo aircraft flying in and out of Guatemala.
Reporting to Bobeck and Nicolucci is Capt. John Dzieciolowski, a veteran of OSAA for the past 3A,A1/2 years and commander of Belvoir's Regional Flight Center since May 2009. He is also commander of the agency's Aircrew Training Program, which is responsible for training and honing the skills of new aviators. To date, it has 33 pilots waiting in the wings.
A National Guard Soldier on active-duty, Dzieciolowski has been in the Army for 12 years and in aviation for nine of those years, including a tour in Iraq. A one-time military police officer, he enlisted when he was 24, but soon realized his true passion in life was flying.
"I always had an interest in flying and was pointed in the direction of OSAA by some friends of mine who were in the service. When I became a part of this agency, it was the best gig I could ever get. I still feel that way," Dzieciolowski said.
He said Belvoir has the largest number of aircraft for any flight center - with three C-12s and two UC-35s. The center also consists of nine warrant officers through the Army National Guard and three NCOs, all on active-duty.
Dzieciolowski said all on-call missions require aircraft - of either type - to be on standby for departure within 30 minutes of receiving a mission. He notes that aircraft availability is also coordinated through the Joint Operational Support Airlift Command in Springfield, Ill. He said they allocate and schedule missions within the continental U.S.
In addition, Dzieciolowski said OSAA provides support to Wounded Warriors and will transport shipments of blood and medical supplies whenever needed. While he flew a C-26 to Haiti earlier this year, he said the C-12 is by far the more prominent aircraft of the Army National Guard.
"We mostly deal with hops and short jumps, as opposed to trans-Atlantic flights. We move personnel from the Pentagon all around the region and we'll move Wounded Warriors to and from Walter Reed," Dzieciolowski said. "A C-12 is normally what we use for those kinds of missions. I even used it last year to move a group of lawyers and other DoD staff to Guantanamo Bay for military trials."
Joining Dzieciolowski in a busy operations division are active-duty instructor pilots CW4 Dave Mackenzie, who also serves as maintenance leader, and CW4 John Selby.
Another instructor pilot, CW4 James Toler, is the unit safety officer at Belvoir.
On active-duty for 28 years, Toler flew C-12s for military intelligence operations before joining the installation's flight center in August 2007. He flies 50-70 hours a month and holds monthly meetings to keep pilot awareness at a high level.
"In my experience, Belvoir is the busiest center when it comes to fixed-wing. It's an umbrella for many other components. We go everywhere," Toler said. "One of my responsibilities is to monitor a pilot's daily activity. We all know fatigue can be an issue. If I notice a pilot going over a certain amount of hours, I can pull that pilot back."
Toler said he ensures that all personnel observe safety measures, which includes all hazmat and cold-weather procedures.
"We fly, but we also know how to take care of people on the ground," Dzieciolowski added.
As for future plans, both Bobeck and Nicolucci said they're in the process of developing a capabilities document for fixed-wing aircraft and they will continue to gather data for that throughout the year.
When word came down recently that the Army was going to ground its fleet of C-23s by 2012, Bobeck said he anticipates a period of adjustment for units who normally call for support. Though, the need for fixed-wing will never wane.
"The request for fixed-wing is there and I don't ever see it going away," Bobeck said. "OSSA is truly one team with a great mission. No one supports Soldiers better than other Soldiers."