Keesler 403rd wing plays vital role in war effort

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Two little known flight squadrons with a reserve wing at Keesler are playing a big role in the war on terror. When you think of the 403rd, you usually think of the Hurricane Hunters. But the 815th Flying Jennies and the 345th Golden Eagles are used to flying into storms of a different nature, war zones.

Tuesday, the group held a training mission, which began with a safety briefing. Then it was on to the Keesler tarmac where eight, 800 pound barrels of water were loaded onto the C-130-J.  The plane took off, flying low over the coast to the drop zone.

Loadmaster Ricky Jackson knows this intense training is what will help win the war on terror.

"When we go to the desert or different missions and we have to accomplish throughout the world, this is what we're going to do," Jackson said. "And to put this cargo on target for the support of the troops that are out there in the field is lifesaving at times."

Getting to the drop zone requires a steady pilot's hand, and accurate calculations. Pinpointing the target is an absolute must, but technology helps.

Capt. Mike Deprey is a co-pilot with the 815th.

"With the avionics that we have on board, it's actually fairly easy," Deprey said. "It pretty much guides you directly toward where you need to go. So it's a matter of you just refining the aircraft and going to where the computers tell you to go."

When it was time for the first drop, the back of the plane opened and a huge parachute was released. In a real-life situation that heavy load might be something like a bulldozer. The next load, three tons of water, went flying out the back of the plane destined for a soft landing at Stennis Airport.

Training session like the one held Tuesday are invaluable. Next month, the members of this unit will deploy to Afghanistan. The motions will be the same, but the stakes will be much higher.

"There's absolute danger there," 815th pilot Major Dominic Barberi said. "There are people in Afghanistan, in particular, that are trying to kill you. So there is the danger aspect to it. But what is amazing about it is that you have a whole military behind us. When you're out there, you're not out there by yourself."

The deployment for the two flight squadrons will begin early next month and last for four months. During that time, thousands of tons of supplies and ammunition will be dropped at various military camps located throughout Afghanistan.

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