By Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon U.S. Air Forces in Europe/Air Forces Africa
ISTRES, France, Jan. 25, 2013 ??? The U.S. Air Force began transporting French soldiers and military equipment Jan. 21 from here to Bamako, Mali, in support of French military operations.
C-17 Globemaster III transport jets, operating under the control of U.S. Africa Command, are moving a French mechanized infantry battalion. The ongoing operation is expected to last at least two weeks, officials said.
The first C-17 from Dover Air Force Base, Del., took off from Istres and landed in Mali???s capital of Bamako on Jan. 21 to deliver more than 80,000 pounds of equipment and dozens of French soldiers.
France deployed its armed forces to the African nation Jan. 11 and requested assistance from other nations to transport armored regiments and troops. In response, the United States deployed airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and multiple C-17 aircrews to a French air base here.
Cargo and equipment are prepared by the French, and load plans are given to the U.S. aircraft commander for review, said Maj. Eric Chabaud, chief of aircraft services here for the French air force.
"It's a good for us to work together on things like this, because we want to be an asset to the operation, not a hindrance," Chabaud said. "We have a very good relationship with the Americans here right now, and we help them any time we can."
While the 621st CRW can singlehandedly deploy, establish an airfield and manage air mobility operations, in this case planners are here to coordinate air support for the French military movements and to load the U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft.
Air Force Maj. David Gaulin, a contingency response element commander from the 621st CRW, was one of the first on the ground to assess the airfield and determine requirements for operations at Istres.
"We were able to show up here, set up communications with the [chain of command] and provide an initial assessment of what capabilities the French had and what capabilities we could bring to the operation within an hour of landing," Gaulin said. "It's good that we're able to use the logistics ability we have - aircraft, our personnel and equipment - to help them."