436th OSS wing tactics goes the extra mile during OAR

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicole Leidholm
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

“The Dover tail flash came across open source news as a sign of hope for the people on the ground and validated the work we were doing.”

Those words, spoken in a moment of reflection, gave gratification to Capt. Steve Tice, 436th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics, as he looked back on his team’s mission during the final days of summer. They weren’t in an aircraft, control tower, or far from home, however Tice and his team played a critical role during Operation Allies Refuge.

The wing tactic team’s dedication to the mission, along with their willingness to adapt and overcome when faced with unexpected obstacles, played a direct role in the success of some of the very first missions of OAR, laying the foundation for the largest noncombatant evacuation operation airlift in U.S. history.

Late in the evening of Aug. 11, 2021, word began circulating about the requirement to alert C-17 Globemaster III crews for missions to Kabul, Afghanistan.

By the following day, crews from the 3rd Airlift Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, were enroute to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“We began releasing the word to crews to get ready for something that’s never been done,” said Tice. “The limited training resources we had were briefed and made available to the crews, but we really didn’t know what we were sending our [crews] in to. Nobody could have prepared for what they were asked to do because it had never been done on a scale like this.”

The role of the wing tactics office is to build and provide the aircrew with products needed to know when, where and how to fly while downrange. This includes developing tactics and procedures when flying in and out of combat locations.

“We are also the aircrew’s planning cell to accomplish any mission we’re tasked with on the C-17 or C-5M [Super Galaxy],” said Tice. “Typically, a mission planning cell is self contained. When we work in the cell, it’s unlikely we talk to many other flying squadrons, let alone other bases.”

However, due to the large operation, many total force installations were involved and worked together to accomplish the mission. Tice and his team collaborated with units such as the 6th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, swapping equipment and information in a total team effort.

“As soon as [OAR] kicked off, we were on the lines with JBMDL, and other East Coast bases trading training plans and even laptops,” said Tice. “We almost ran out of everything, but we were able to offer to lend [our equipment] to other wings to allow the mission to happen.”

During that evening, the tactics team ran into network issues which prevented them from accessing and providing the critical flight information.

“This is the how-to-guide for aircrew on how and where to fly,” said Tice. “Without it, our Dover [AFB] crews were going to be flying blind and without [communication].”

Second Lieutenant Ryan D'Antonio, 436th OSS tactics officer, in his first day in the Air Force, was charged with acquiring the critical flight information needed for the C-17 crews.

D’Antonio said when the U.S. military launched OAR, the situation changed by the hour. Having the latest updates was extremely important.

The only solution was to get updated documents from somewhere else. D’Antonio volunteered to drive to the closest tactics squadron at JBMDL to retrieve the documents.

“By 4 p.m. I was on the road headed up to McGuire to get the disc with the updates,” said D’Antonio. “I got back that night around 9 p.m. and the team was back in the [intel] vault until 3 a.m. building the [kits] to send out with the crew that had been [notified of their mission]. It was cool to be a part of such an important mission so quickly, but at the time, I remember thinking ‘What have I gotten myself into.’ Looking back, now that things have quieted down a bit, it was very rewarding.”

The wing tactics team made the round-trip journey to JBMDL four times in 96 hours, during all hours of the night. Their efforts enabled the launch of five no-notice missions in a 24-hour period. Those C-17s were some of the first aircraft that landed at HKIA when evacuations started.

“It was amazing sitting in our intel shop, watching real world updates of the Dover [AFB] jets we just launched 30 hours earlier, saving lives,” said Tice. “I know I’ll never forget the images of our [Team Dover] tail hauling more than 800 people.”