The U.S. Air Force began transporting French soldiers and military equipment Jan. 21 from Istres, France to Bamako, Mali, in support of French military operations.
C-17 Globemaster III, 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.
The first C-17 from Dover Air Force Base, Del., took off from Istres and landed in Bamako Jan. 21 to deliver more than 80,000 pounds of equipment and dozens of French soldiers.
France deployed its armed forces to the African country of Mali Jan. 11 and requested assistance from other nations to transport armored regiments and troops. In response, the U.S. deployed Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and multiple C-17 aircrews to Istres-Le TubÈ Air Base in southern France.
From the very start of the air transportation missions, French and American militaries have worked closely together to prepare and load equipment on the C-17s.
Cargo and equipment are prepared by the French and load plans are given to the U.S. aircraft commander for review, said French air force Maj. Eric Chabaud, who is the chief of aircraft services in Istres.
“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 load the U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft.
U.S. 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.”