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Air Forces Africa supports U.S.-Moroccan exercise

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Seventeenth Air Force's Airmen and aircraft recently played a key role in the bilateral U.S.-Moroccan exercise African Lion. The ongoing exercise, which runs through June 4, includes a variety of military training events and features humanitarian civic assistance activities across five different Moroccan communities. 

Conducted under U.S. Africa Command and Marine Forces Africa to promote interoperability between U.S. and Moroccan forces, African Lion needed the capabilities of 17th AF (Air Forces Africa) to get off the ground. Crews from AFAfrica's 42nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron transported 43 tons of cargo and a limited number of passengers at the outset May 3-6, according to Capt. Wesley Stark, an aircraft commander for one of two crews supporting the operation. A second crew staged similar operations from Mali. 

"We staged out of Rota [Air Base], Spain," Captain Stark said. "We supported the exercise; making sure they Marines had their cargo." Because the cargo was essential to the progress of the exercise, the Captain and his crew flew 18 sorties in five days. 

Loadmaster Senior Airman Robert Gantz said that difficulties associated with dealing with hazardous cargo like training munitions was eased by the off-loading support they received from the U.S. Marines and their Moroccan counterparts at the airfield in Guelmime, Morocco. 

"The big thing for us was that we had Marines helping, which made it easier. The Moroccans also were very anxious to help us, and since we had a translator who really smoothed out the process, they were able to be a great help," Airman Gantz said. "They got a chance to see what we could do and we also learned what they could do." 

Navigator Capt. Adam Olson said that Moroccan capability to marshal aircraft and facilitate offloading of cargo also played a part in the successful transport and delivery of exercise cargo. He added that though there was a definite language barrier, gestures of good will were abundant 

"They seemed glad that we were there, and that they wanted to help, which was nice. We saw lots of waves and smiles, thumbs up and salutes. I think the Moroccans enjoyed it and were interested in seeing how we operated," Captain Olson said. 

While the current rotation of crews from the 42nd have been flying in Africa since arriving at Ramstein in February and March, these missions were particularly challenging because it was their first time conducting operations at Guelmime, Captain Stark explained, and additional mission planning was required. 

According to Airman Gantz, 42nd crews take pride in such missions, because like Guelmime, many locations in Africa make their C-130 Hercules aircraft the only option. 

"We helped out by getting stuff in country, to a location that's not easy to get into," Airman Gantz said. "We take a lot of pride in doing stuff a lot of people don't get to do, flying into places a lot of other aircraft can't get into." 

The exercise is scheduled to end on June 4, 2009. All U.S. forces will return to their home bases in the United States and Germany at the conclusion of the exercise.