FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan – The aircrew of “Growler 51” set out a few hours before sunrise Sept. 28 to fly the last of the U.S. cargo out of Forward Operating Base Sharana before the base was officially transferred to the Afghan government.
Twelve hours and three round-trip flights later, the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Airmen completed the mission.
Maj. Devin Cummings and 1st Lt. Brent Stevens, 774th EAS pilots, took turns maneuvering the aircraft around deep cloud banks and over the Hindu Kush mountain peaks during the 40-minute flights, alternating their route for weather concerns.
The cargo yard and parking ramp looked deserted on arrival with only a couple dozen passengers and a few pallets left for transport.
This FOB is no stranger to those in the C-130 community. Sharana has a short runway that is only accessible by smaller planes.
“Everyone that’s deployed to Afghanistan on C-130s has pretty much been there,” said Staff Sgt. Nick Sanborn, 774th EAS loadmaster and Vacaville, Calif., native. “I’ve been deployed four times and I’ve probably been [to Sharana] over 50 times.”
Sharana was officially transferred to the Afghan government Oct. 1, underscoring International Security Assistance Force’s commitment to meeting President Obama’s drawdown goal for 2014.
“The U.S. and Coalition partners have closed or transferred about 90 percent of the ISAF installations in Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Mark Madaus, Chief, Basing Current Operations at ISAF Joint Command. “Basing reductions, closures and transfers remain on track to meet 2014 objectives.”
The last U.S. Army soldiers at Sharana, the 2nd Security Forces Assistance Brigade, Combined Joint Task Force 101, focused on training and advising the Afghan National Army in the region.
According to Madaus, ISAF hopes the transfer of base facilities will shore-up their legacy to the Afghan people. There are many Afghan governmental departments that are planning to operate out of the base.
“The Afghans intend to use the base as a hub for services throughout the local area and Paktika province,” Madaus said. “Providing ‘Turn Key’ facilities that are ready for immediate occupation avoids time-consuming construction efforts, saves money and allows agencies to focus on providing security and support services for their community.”
Among the last passengers off the FOB were civilians that manned the fire department. Once the plane took flight, a couple firemen clapped and celebrated the end of their tour.
“It’s a big milestone for what we’ve been doing out here, finally shutting down something,” Sanborn said. “Especially in the C-130 community because we’ve been going here for over a decade.”