Cohen, Congress Members Visit Airlifters
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany, April 9, 1999 It takes about four hours for a U.S. Air Force C-130 transport to fly from here to Italy, pick up a load of supplies and carry it to Albania. Each day, 86th Airlift Wing crews here make the journey to help Kosovo's refugees.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a 12-member bi- partisan, congressional delegation visited the base briefly April 8. While the visitors viewed a static display on the airlift, Air Force Lt. Col. Carl Hunter of the 37th Airlift Squadron talked about his unit's role in the humanitarian relief effort.
"Our mission is to get into the small airfields in Albania," said Hunter, who calls Charleston, S.C., home. "We sweep through Ancona (Italy), pick up what was dropped off from the United States and other nations, and take it into the smaller airfields in Albania that the large aircraft can't get into."
The squadron makes 20 to 30 "direct deliveries" of up to 15 tons of food, water and medicine each day, he said. "We drop the cargo off with our engines running, turn right around and get back out to pick up some more goods in Italy. We bring the planes back, go to bed, get up and do it again the next day." Regardless of the long days, Hunter added, the squadron is "upbeat and motivated" to get the job done.
Following the airlift briefing, Cohen, Scharping and Sen. John McCain of Arizona addressed about a hundred wing personnel, thanking them for their sacrifice and service.
"We understand that this is a double-edged sword," Cohen told the airmen. "You feel very proud of the work that you're doing. You're carrying out the mission you're trained to carry out. We also understand you're working longer and harder, and that's putting a great deal more pressure on you and your families.
"We hope it won't be that long before you have relief from that pressure, but you all understand, and we understand, what's necessary to get done," Cohen continued. "We've got a major humanitarian catastrophe that we have to face caused by [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic."
The secretary thanked all the U.S. and allied troops taking part in NATO's Operation Allied Force, aimed at degrading Milosevic's military, and the allied forces delivering relief supplies. "On the one hand, you're great warriors, and on the other, you're also great humanitarians," he said. "We are deeply appreciative of everything that you're doing."
Ralston expressed appreciation for the airlifters' efforts to supply U.S. forces as well as the refugees. "We've got a real job to do to make sure that our men and women on the front lines get the equipment and all the supplies that they need," he said. "That's what you're all about here -- to make sure that stuff moves as it has to. All of the joint chiefs know how critical airlift is."
McCain, a Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, also saluted the airlift wing. "There is no other military organization in the world that can do the things that you are doing," he said. Regarding NATO's air campaign against Milosevic, McCain's message was plain and simple. "My friends," he said, "we must win. We will win."