Michael's Dispatches

Special Delivery



Atop are the LCADS parachutes, and these are fuel drums.  Usually, our people try to avoid parachuting ammunition in Afghanistan.  Though normally right on target, cargo has a real chance of floating into enemy hands.  Also, ammo is more easily damaged than MREs and fuel.

Illumination for the drop was to be at .001 lux (pitch black), and moonrise would be 10 minutes before TOT (time on target).  Though military standard for drops is plus/minus two minutes (four minute window), the pilots said they normally are plus/minus one minute.

This is the BSA, or Buffer Stop Assembly.  The BSA is designed to keep the cargo from lurching forward during flight.

The floor of the aircraft is lined with rollers and rings for moving cargo and tying it down.  You must be careful when walking because people do trip.  When we approach the DZ, the pilots will pull the nose of the aircraft up to about 7 degrees, causing the pallets to strain against the anchor webbing as gravity insists they roll out the back.  Looking down the aisle between the pallets, you’ll see that inverted Y cable.  The pallets are tied down with strong webbing, but that cable is attached to two knives that are up against the webbing.  So after the pilot pulls pitch to 7 degrees, and we reach the Computed Air Release Point, a loadmaster uses his controls to cause the knives to cut the webbing and the pallets should slide out.  Each parachute is attached via “static line” to an overhead cable, and so when they roll into the hurricane winds and darkness, the parachutes should be pulled out by static line.  That is, if the parachute riggers have done their jobs.  If the loadmasters have loaded right.  If the pilot is doing the job.  One weak link and something will go wrong.

The algorithm in the onboard CARP computer (Computed Air Release Point) cannot factor the winds without data.  And so as we roared through the night toward the, drop zone a loadmaster would toss a “dropsonde” out the back.  The dropsonde has a small parachute, GPS, and radio transmitter.  The black antennae screws into the nose and transmits drift data that feeds into a laptop onboard, improving accuracy.  In addition to the desire to get this fuel and ammo to our people, nobody wanted that ammo to fall into enemy hands.

Taxiing for takeoff from BAF, an awesome C-17 aircraft lands in front of us.

This was a great mission so far: our chances of crashing or getting shot down were low, so that made me happy, and all five crew members were enthusiastic about their work, and answered about a thousand questions.  They also wanted to know about the ground war and were asking me a lot of questions.  Everybody’s war is different.

About an hour after flying out of BAF, we were on final approach to the DZ.  The pilots continued to gather information about the situation and decided the dropsonde was not needed and the drop would be strictly CARP.  I crawled down the three stairs from the cockpit to watch the release while a loadmaster kept his eye on his own console, which was counting down to drop time.  To avoid being seen by the enemy, the back was too dark to take good photos.  The ramp was down when we roared over the drop zone and the pilot pulled the nose up 7 degrees, and so now the 32,000lbs in the twenty pallets were straining to be free.  At just the right moment, the knives cut the straps and in maybe 3-4 seconds all twenty rolled into the night and the plane, suddenly lighter, accelerated.  After the ramp was closed, I unbuckled and stood as the pilot pulled hard and we gained altitude, causing me to stagger under the g-force.  Up in the cockpit, he said all the bundles landed on the drop zone, and the last ones landed right on target.  Well done.

The pilots pulled the nose south in the direction of Kandahar.

The moon continued to rise.

The heavenly views at night show no hint of the guerrilla war raging below.  The crew wants to know more about how our people are doing, and I say we can succeed, and their airlift contribution is crucial.  Without the Air Force, we would have to dedicate far more troops to dangerous convoy duty, bleeding our resources away from other important tasks, and we would endure more KIA from the convoys.  The airlift crews are saving lives and freeing combat troops to perform other tasks, such as going after the enemy.

We kept rumbling through the night, amid the clouds, the stars and the glow of the moon.

And finally back to Kandahar Airfield (KAF), which is becoming a bustling, crowded base due to the Afghanistan Surge.

The marshaller brings us into a parking place.

1LT April Brown (Pilot), Captain Tanner Bergsrud (Pilot), Captain John Holland (Pilot), TSG Jonathan Boyce, SSG Gabriel Campbell, Senior Airman Joe Hawkins.

If you are a troop on the ground and need a pizza delivery by parachute, well, tough luck.  It’s not coming.  But if you need fuel, ammo, medevac from remote locations, or any number of  specialty services that require a C-130J, you might look up into the sky and see the 772 EAS (Expeditionary Airlift Squadron), from Little Rock, Arkansas.

After we land, in the background, three helicopters launch on a mission at about midnight.

The airdrop mission was a success.  I had been back in Afghanistan for eighteen hours and it was great to be back with winners.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob Thiessen · 10 years ago

    Thanks so much for the insight of our military. You help us all have more appreciation for our mission there.

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    dennis · 10 years ago
    awesome post Michael!! always wanted to know how they do that.
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    Karl · 10 years ago
    Thanks, Michael! Great story, great pics.
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    Suzanne · 10 years ago
    I just finished reading Craig Mullaney's "The Unforgiving Moment" - and if any of you non-military readers want to understand what our soldiers go through to train to be leaders of our brave troops, this is one to add in addition to Michael's book. It describes Mullaney's education for leadership at West Point, including Airborne and Ranger training, and then his duty in Afghanistan when that war was very much forgotten - in 2003. Now's the time to read it to understand how much we need to support and be thankful for our troops in Afghanistan. I have no financial interest at all in recommending this book. I just think Mullaney's book is one of the best I've read, and was lauded by Gen Petraeus et al.

    Thank you, Michael, for all that you're doing, and I hope that this recommendation for the education of the American public doesn't seem like a detriment to your book sales.! Be safe, Suzanne
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    Kimberly Carvalho · 10 years ago
    Michael-What a wonderful story and insight to this piece of the war. The pics are great. What a wonderful team of pilots and other assistants. We definitely couldn't get through this war without them. Please be safe and keep up the most excellent reporting! And please pass along my thanks and prayers to them.
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    Ryo · 10 years ago
    Another wonderful post. Thank you for putting yourself in harms way to get us these great interesting stories.
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    brityank · 10 years ago
    Many thanks for the information and explanations you provide to go along with these great pictures illustrating your stories. I wish I could give more to help defray your costs and provide for your dispatches, but I would ask that everyone who reads and follows your reports hits your Support Button above and add to the kitty.

    Stay safe, friend.
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    Jan D · 10 years ago
    Michael, I know you hear this all the time, but you unquestionably have a "God given" talent. Your photography is not only always incredible, but you have an innate ability to bring life to each photo in such a natural way of storytelling. So often you capture little things that would otherwise go unnoticed. In the picture of your final approach to Bagram Airfield, inadvertently or not, the white lighted cross is conspicuously dead-on center. I’m familiar with the red/green lights used for landing, but I don’t recall the white lighted cross. Not sure if this is unique to this airfield, nonetheless it presents a spiritual quality. Probably just me being crazy, but I love it, as well as all of your other photos.

    Your stories always leave me with so much pride for our soldiers and for what they do and how they do it. They are so intelligent … so poised … so focused … so dedicated … and so confident in the execution of their duties. Difficult to say enough good things about them.

    With heartfelt thanks to you and all of our soldiers. I'm eternally grateful.
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    Steve Graves · 10 years ago
    Wouldn't it be great if many of the troops that you write about would run for and win election to national office - after their retirement from the military?

    If we could only replace a goodly portion of the self-centered, greedy, hyper-partisan miscreants presently serving in D.C. with people of the caliber that you describe in your postings. . . what a better place this nation would be!

    Thank you again for your always informative news from the battlefront. As for the photography, what can I say other than it is the best GWOT coverage that I have found anywhere on the internet.

    May the Lord keep an eye on you and those you are serving with. And now - off to PayPal to send you another pittance for your monthly care and grooming.
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    Anthony Rock · 10 years ago
    Thanks Mike...a lot of folks just don't know what our AF is doing to contribute on a daily basis. Whether it is delivery of ammo and medical supplies or delivery of hot metal on target, we are in it for the long haul. My dad was an Army infantryman and used to say, "There is no bigger proponent of air power than a troop in contact." Good luck as you return to the tough slog on the ground and keep telling the story of our warriors on the front line of freedom.
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    Larry Farkash · 10 years ago
    Great blog and wonderful photos. Thank you for all you do and report.
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    staghounds · 10 years ago
    What a joy to see the pride in those faces! Thank you!
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    Michael Craven · 10 years ago

    As the father of a young Marine who is scheduled to deploy later this year, your "boots on the ground" perspective is extremely helpful. I was concerned, however by your account of the small team of six soldiers who were isolated for so long. Is this normal and what kind of "strategy" exposes our troops in this way other than using them as "bait" for the enemy? Any further insights would be appreciated. Thanks again for all you do!
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    Mark Stephens · 10 years ago
    Another great report, Mike. Thanks. Come on, people, hit that tip jar!
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    Marina Freeman · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the great report and amazing photos. I see my friends over there in their faces. This makes me very proud of our AF.
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    Gabe Campbell · 10 years ago
    Mike, It was nice having you along for the ride on our mission. You definitely have a way of accurately decribing things in ways that I haven't thought of.....I see why you're such a successful writer. Thanks for the kind words. Keep your head on a swivel.
    P.S. It was a pleasure to help you with your NOGs.
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    Eddy Williams · 10 years ago
    Man, this was such a cool article! It must have been so neat seeing all the work and precision that goes into a job that probably very few people back home think about, or all the work that goes into it. Thanks, Michael.
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    Victoria · 10 years ago
    Another great report, thanks Mike. I really enjoy it when you include photo's of our troops, I am so proud of them and so proud to be an American, it would be an honor if I happen to meet any one of them some day. Be safe to all of you.
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    PJ · 10 years ago
    From San Jose, thank you Michael for the post and thanks to the 772 EAS for doing such an excellent job.
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    Dave Carlton · 10 years ago
    A slight twist on words came to me as I used to fly as a gunner in the AC-130A Spectre gunships back in '72 which were nick named the 'Fabulous Four Engine Fighter" A great job on the C-130J, I have not had the privlege yet of flying in one but have heard the are light years ahead of the technology we had in the olden days.
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    mike h · 10 years ago
    Mike,keep up the great work! Tell all of our brave warriors we support all that they do. I am sending more $$ your way.. Stay safe!
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    Esther · 10 years ago

    Because of your eye for detail, your maps, upclose photography and commentary makes me feel as if I am actually there! You are excellent at what you do...stay safe and healthy and may God bless you and our brave soldiers.
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    Bob Tolford · 10 years ago
    It is amazing what a change in propellers has done for the C-130.
    I took a ride from the Panama Canal Zone to Tacoma, Washington in 1976 along with 20 others from B-Btry, 22nd FA. We went up there to train on different howitzers than the 105mm, towed guns we had in the CZ. It was a Loooong flight!
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    Fits · 10 years ago
    Semper Fi, Michael.
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    Renee C. · 10 years ago
    Michael, I don't know how you do it, but I'm never disappointed when I read your stuff. I found this fascinating! Thanks to you and all these brave men and women who are putting everything on the line for the rest of us.
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    Norm Sevigny · 10 years ago
    Thanks from a retired Viet Nam era USAF C-130 driver and the father of a retired Somolia, Kosovo, Saudi, Afghanistan, USAF C-130 driver (how old do I feel). The airlift "trash haulers"always took great pride in our work.
    It's nice to see the "kids" continuing the tradition.
    Keep up your great reporting.
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    Robert · 10 years ago
    I love reading the articles and living vicariously through them. I would love to be able to ride with our men and women in uniform and photograph them as they do their jobs and write about them as you do! Keep up the good work.
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    Keith H · 10 years ago
    Awesome pictures and 'down to earth' reporting from the 'sharp end'! Our son is an FST commander on the ground (we called them 'Brown Jobs') and I know they really appreciate what the 'Blue Jobs' do for them! Blessings, Keith
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    TJ · 10 years ago
    It is hard to imagine what our husbands/spouses go through while overseas. We get an email here, a phone call there, maybe a short webcam session to tie us over until the next time our loved one has a moment (and a good electronic connection) available. And we sit, and we wait, and we pray. But those precious communications are never about the mission they were sent there to do. So thank you, Michael, for helping us SEE what our men and women actually do THERE, while we are HERE, at home, shoveling the snow, mowing the lawn and single parenting the children. Military spouses are ever proud and ever hopeful, but having a window into what they go through on a daily basis, well, as cliche as it may sound...that's just priceless!
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    Donn · 10 years ago
    Please do not print any more maps with troop locations on them.
    thank you very much
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    Terry in Georgia USA · 10 years ago
    Thank you for the great pictures and descriptions that show us what a wonderful job all our troops are doing. Please make sure to tell this crew and all our heroes that we love them, we truly appreciate their service and sacrifice, and that we are so very proud of all they do. Not everyone back home ridicules this service -- in fact I can assure you that most of us still think of this as the greatest country on the planet and know that we have all of you to thank for fighting the bad guys over there while we fight the bad guys here.
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    Inigo · 10 years ago
    Lovely pics and captions! Please post more! All those Bozos in Washington think it is all about them when it is really people like these USAF personnel that make things happen.

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    MAJ R · 10 years ago
    Great stuff, Michael, as always. Glad to know you are back, so we can get some accurate news from that Theater. I have less and less faith in the MSM as time passes.
    And for Don--
    It is only OPSEC if it is information the enemy doesn't know. The locations on the map are the AIRBASES, ferchrissake. Do you really think the talibs don't kow where they are?
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    Rick554 · 10 years ago
    Great pics of our USAF Micheal ! Thanks for telling their story. And GOD bless the Crews
    Keep 'em flying AIR FORCE!
    A Proud Parent of a SOLDIER
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    IronKnight · 10 years ago
    "it was great to be back with winners"
    I knew their were no athiests or politicians in a foxhole (the later only applying to the qoute).
    I am glad to know this extends upward into flight decks (read cockpit for the rest of us).

    Thank you Mr. Yon.
    You do your country proud
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    Mortarman11c · 10 years ago
    Great article, but with a correction. Those are not "pallets" but Container Delivery Systems. "Bundles." Each bundle can hold up to 2000 pounds of whatever you can fit itno it.

    How do I know? I have seven combat airdrops over Afghanistan as a C-17 Airdrop loadie.

    Great job ya Herc pukes!!! The four fan trash can mafia has done the AF proud!!!

    Paratrooper/C-17 Loadmaster
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    Rob Jacob · 10 years ago
    Michael Yon - you are a national treasure. I true professional patriot of the highest order. Thank you for you posts from the field, and please always thanks the men and women who serve. Your posts raise the pride inside this American each and every time I read them. You're a great man.
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    Chuck Norris · 10 years ago
    In the past ths Air Force never got the recognition it so rightfully deserved. Great article. Please continue so the home front will know what a valiant group of WARRIORS we have.
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    Ing · 10 years ago
    Fantastic, Michael as always. Make sure, everyone, to thank a military person every time you see him/her for the service to the nation.

    BTW, the Mullaney book is "The Unforgiving Minute" for anyone looking it up.
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    dj · 10 years ago
    Air-BORNE, bruther! Still gives me goose-pimples. Gawd I love the military!

    Libruls just ain't a'gonna get it. EVER. It sure ain't the PAY...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michele · 10 years ago
    What an amazing story. I have had many family members in the Air Force and my son is in right now as Security Forces in the Air Force. Your coverage is very much appreciated and I thank you for taking the time to write this story and to let everyone know what these men and women do for our country. We are so proud of them and we are so proud of the men and women who have served our country and died for our country so that we can live a better life.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    One proud mother!
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    Wolfgang · 10 years ago
    Mr. Yon,

    I am a SSgt with the Air National Guard, currently deployed to KAF. Good to hear you are back in country. You are doing, and have always done, a great job reporting facts on the ground. If I run into you here at KAF I hope I have a chance to shake your hand. Keep telling it like it is brotha. How did you like that nice little flood we had? Nothing like rockets and mother nature to keep you on your toes.
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    Cyndy Aldous · 10 years ago
    Incredible coverage of our Air Force and the crucial work they do. This comes at a time when my nephew is finishing up basic flight training with the Air Force and will soon be given his flight assignment. His roommate was assigned the C5 and, while it was not his first choice, he is happy with the important work he will be doing. What an incredible honor to be part of the crew that supports all troops in this battle.

    You help us see the awesome work of our troops and the sacrifices they make for us.
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    hando · 10 years ago

    Went to the superbowl. Great game. The biggest cheers came when the camera flashed to the military. We do appreciate you all.
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    Flash · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the memories! I retired in '96. I was on the crew on the ground that loaded cargo onto the C-130s. It's nice to see what happens after we were done with it. I've seen it from the outside, but never from the inside.
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    Chip Marshall · 10 years ago

    Wonderful job showing the team spirit of the troops. Keep Going!


    Chip Marshall
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    Rhonda · 10 years ago
    Thank you Mr. Yon for sending this on to us. Your work is very much appreciated. My son is in the area of this drop. You can know that in my heart I imagined it went to him and his men. Keep up the good work. Heading over to the paypal button. I would much rather support you than subscribe to that rag of a newspaper, the AJC, that we have here in Atlanta.

    All the best and stay safe,


    P.S. SHOUT OUT to mortarman, hando, all service members and all the VETS.... Thank you for your service to our country! I am in debt to y'all.
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    jic · 10 years ago
    "It is only OPSEC if it is information the enemy doesn't know. The locations on the map are the AIRBASES, ferchrissake. Do you really think the talibs don't kow where they are?"

    I'm beginning to think that if Michael posted a map of the world, with a single pin in the center of each country where US troops are publicly known to be stationed, somebody would accuse him of violating OPSEC.
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    bob medley · 10 years ago
    super job, these pictures are fantastic and it's great to hear real information about out troops
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    mrsh · 10 years ago
    Dear Sir,
    Thank-you for sharing your gift with us and for giving tribute to those who serve in such difficult missions. While news cres and talking heads can give a pale recounting, only you ever take us there, and let us be with the men and women we love. May the Lord Bless you and Keep you, and especially, St Michael Defend you. What a super report, just so special to us. Fare you well.

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