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History repeats itself

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Derek Salmi
  • 436th Operations Support Squadron
To the casual observer of current events, the recent headlines are almost certainly familiar: War, violence, and instability grip Syria and Egypt. The U.S. continues complex retrograde operations to conclude a decade of difficult counterinsurgency warfare. Israel remains the focus of intense regional animosity while Russia shores up its Middle East allies.

To the careful historian, however, these headlines are not exclusive to 2013--they in fact come from an uneasy October four decades earlier when, in 1973, Syrian and Egyptian forces launched coordinated, pre-emptive attacks against Israeli forces to avenge the losses of the 1967 Six Day War. While Soviet-backed Arab forces pressed the offensive, the United States, locked in the waning days of the Vietnam withdrawal, rushed to aid its Israeli ally. And Team Dover proved key.

What followed became widely known as the Yom Kippur War, after the Jewish holy day when hostilities began. Mid-October found Israeli forces desperately engaged on two fronts stretching from the Sinai Peninsula in the south to the Golan Heights in the far north. These opening actions witnessed massive ammunition expenditures and heavy military losses, with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) suffering 49 downed warplanes and more than 500 destroyed tanks in the first four days alone. Uneasy Israeli leaders contemplated employing the nation's secretive nuclear stockpile--and dramatically escalating the conflict--before turning to President Nixon and the United States for assistance.

From this request grew one of the most successful, but perhaps least recognized, strategic airlift operations in history--Operation NICKEL GRASS. With maritime re-supply timelines deemed too lengthy, national planners tapped Dover C-5 Galaxies and other airlifters from the Military Airlift Command to deliver critical ammunition, vehicles, medical supplies and rations direct to Israeli forces. Indeed, within ten hours of the support decision, the first Galaxy, crewed by Dover Airmen, was en route over the Atlantic, ultimately unloading more than 193,000 pounds of cargo at Israel's Lod Airport on October 14. As author O'Brien Browne notes, "This was more than military aid; it was life support."

More sorties would follow over the course of the next month. Flying only a quarter of the missions, C-5 crews delivered 48 percent of the tonnage at a rate of four to six missions per day, to include 29 missions of outsized tanks and cargo. Altogether Galaxy crews delivered nearly 22 million pounds of supplies, frequently under the escort of Israeli and U.S. Navy warplanes through hostile airspace.

Equally important as their actual loads, the giant airlifters signaled to the world the resolve and commitment of the United States to its ally, in turn boosting Israeli morale and helping to turn the tide in favor of the IDF. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir later praised the contributions of the C-5, and Team Dover, by noting "for generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States, bringing in the material that meant life to our people."

As history often repeats itself, today's generation of Dover Airmen must be similarly prepared to execute critical mission tasks such as NICKEL GRASS. Boasting a complement of first-class airlifters in the C-17 Globemaster III and C-5M Super Galaxy, the DoD's largest aerial port, superior operations support and unparalleled maintenance, mission support and medical care activities, Team Dover is even better postured today to meet the demands of a dynamic and challenging international security environment.

Yet the critical intangible of leadership remains paramount. From commanders to supervisors to front-line Airmen, we must strive for excellence in vital mission sets such as teamwork, innovation and readiness. Dover AFB is arguably the most combat-focused stateside base, one that moves over 94 percent of the OEF-bound channel cargo while simultaneously receiving America's fallen heroes with dignity and honor. Leadership must continue to channel this energy toward even greater levels of mission accomplishment.

Throughout its proud history, the members of Team Dover have repeatedly earned perhaps the greatest compliment one can bestow upon a mobility enterprise--"They Move the Mission." As today's leaders, it is our job to carry this proud tradition forward, from NICKEL GRASS to Afghanistan to the distant battlefields of the future, to ensure we are ready and capable of answering any call in the defense of the Nation.