Story and photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun, 108th Public Affairs Detachment
HINESVILLE, Ga. – The South Carolina Army National Guard’s 1-118th Combined Arms Battalion (CAB) participated in heavy airlift operations this week at Wright Army Airfield (WAAF) demonstrating the joint capabilities of the S.C. Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 315th Airlift Wing.
Soldiers and Airmen worked in unison over two days to load and secure four of the 1-118th CAB’s new M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks onto four U.S. Air Force C-17 transport planes for transportation to McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, S.C.
“Getting the tanks onto the C-17 is the easy part,” said Lt. Col. Lamar Thigpen, ground commander for the 315th Airlift Control Flight. “Preparing the 130,000 pound M1 for flight takes total effort by everyone. Ensuring that the tank does not move while in flight is our primary goal.”
Thigpen also said they have to calculate for 3Gs in any direction. The M1 weighs in excess of 130,000 pounds, which comes to 300,000 pounds of restraint by using more than 40 one-inch heavy chains.
For members of the 1-118th CAB this was the first time that the unit had loaded their M1s onto a C-17 for transport and planners wanted to ensure that crews, who were not used to strapping down their equipment for airlift, where given ample time.
“Our Soldiers do not get to participate in the type of operation very often,” said Maj. David Fowler for the 1-118th CAB. “Having our Soldiers getting their tanks certified for airlift is very exciting for them because this is not something that they normally get to do.”
Wright Army Airfield is located on the outer perimeter of Fort Stewart, Ga. and has never been used by the Army or the Air Force as a site for heavy airlift operations. Nearby Hunter Army Airfield is often better suited for planners by offering longer runways and the ability to handle multiple heavy transport planes on the ground at the same time.
“We have always been told that WAAF could not handle a C-17 cargo plane and today we demonstrated that we could support such large aircraft and serve as vital asset to Fort Stewart, the Army and the Air Force,” said Airfield manager Bill Phipps. “This is a great day for everyone who has always been told that we could not do it.”
“For us this joint exercise demonstrates that the S.C. Army National Guard and the 315th Airlift Wing can come together and maximize our joint capabilities,” said Thigpen. “If this were a real-world scenario this total force partnership could have 118th personnel and their tanks loaded and flown to the other side of the world within 20 hours.”