Story and Photos by Sagar Pathak
Every two years, the best of the best from across the Air Mobility Command get together at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., in an undisputed, winner-take-all competition that pits more than 50 aircraft and 2,500 airmen from across the world in a skills competition to crown the best of the best. This year, I had the chance to observe the March ARB Team as they participate in the Air Mobility Rodeo 2011.
First held in 1945, the AMC Rodeo is a weeklong competition that has featured more than 2,500 competitors from across the globe. More than 50 aircraft (C-17, C-5, C-130, KC-10, KC-135, T-1, C-37, C-32, etc.) fill the ramp at McChord Field and compete in contests such as air-to-air refueling, on/off loading cargo, aero-medical evacuations, low-level flying and air drops.
As we took off from March ARB, our team was already in the first event of the competition and would be judged on our landing. We had to land at McChord Field at exactly 10:05 a.m. and within 3,000 feet of the end of the runway. And delay in flight or lack of accuracy on the landing would cause our team to lose points. After the few-hour flight to McChord, the team landed one second early and right on the mark. It was a great start to the competition.
The Airmen from across the globe, including the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and more than 30 international teams eagerly awaited Brig. Gen. Rick Martin, the Rodeo’s 2011 commander, to officially start the competition. With the largest attendance in 55 years, this year’s Rodeo was shaping up to be one of the best events to date.
One of the signs of increasing global cooperation between the USAF and the other countries across the world is evident by the number of international competitors and observers attending the events. No matter what flag was on their shoulder, they shared a common bond of flying cargo airplanes, and along with that came instant respect from any airman, from any base. Their words may have been different, but at the end of the day, they all performed the same mission, and all had the highest level of professionalism. This year, the flying international participants hailed from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Pakistan Air Force, Swedish Air Force, Belgium Air Force, Spanish Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, and the Royal Saudi Air Force; each flying their C-130s.
After observing the various events during the week, I was reminded of the preparation that the numerous crews must have gone through to get in shape for the events. March ARB was no different. The crews and maintenance that made up the team were some of the finest at the competition. After observing them first hand and measuring them up based on how I saw the other teams perform, it was clear that they were pouring their hearts into the events.
They competed in the various competitions such as the ERO (Engine Running Onload) competition where their C-17 aircraft pulled up with its engines on, and an Aerial Port Team from another base scrambled to load a vehicle and some cargo onboard as quickly, and safely as possible.
This competition required the Port Team to work closely with the Loadmaster of the airplane to get it loaded and make sure the center of gravity is correct. Some of the team drives the vehicles while others guide them into precise position. Not to mention, you didn’t want to back something into the aircraft and damage it. The second half of the challenge is to safely offload the cargo and vehicle.
With competitions ranging from precision flying to daily maintenance inspections, March ARB and the other teams had their hands full every day. But even when the March Maintenance team competed early in the morning, the aircrew was there to cheer them on. And 12 hours later, when the aircrew had a very late night sortie, the maintenance folks were there to make sure the jet launched and didn’t break down.
It was this spirit that made the Rodeo competition a success for Team March. And just like that it was over for AMC Rodeo 2011. With severe weather delays in the beginning of the week, the schedulers had their hands full getting all of the crews in the air and the competitions closed out. But they did it in fine fashion, and when it was all over and done, the 97th Air Mobility Wing from Altus Air Force Base, Okla. earned the “Best Air Mobility Wing” title.