Ascension gets busy as President Obama tours Africa

President Obama's luggage carriers: aircraft on the tarmac at Ascension. US Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

President Obama’s luggage carriers: aircraft at Ascension. US Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

It was as if Wideawake Airfield had suddenly decided to live up to its name.

In a normal week, Ascension Island sees just three flights touch down; but in June and July 2013, no fewer than 103 aircraft passed through in the space of 24 days, according to the Air Mobility Command website.

And all because the President of the United States was spending just six days touring Africa, promoting democracy and trade.

Ascension was used as a staging post for moving American personnel and equipment to and from Africa to support the President’s tour.

Loading cargo onto a C-17 at Ascension. US Air Force picture by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

Loading cargo onto a C-17 at Ascension. US Air Force picture by Staff Sergeant Sean Baber

“The normally tranquil island transformed into a major military aircraft hub,” writes Captain David Bredesen on the website.

He salutes the island’s civilian population – mostly St Helenians – who turned on traditional Saint hospitality. In return, children from Two Boats School and the scout troop enjoyed a tour of the giant C-17 and KC-10 aircraft, and off-duty airmen helped Ascension Island Conservation maintain hiking trails on Green Mountain.

The operation began on 14 June 2013 with the arrival of more than 170 mobility airmen aboard four C-17 Globemasters.

Another 92 aircraft followed in the second wave of an “aggressive 24/7 operation”. The airfield had not been as busy as this since it became a jumping off point for the Falklands War, 31 years earlier.

And more loading...

And more loading…

The operation was supported by a small team from the 45th Operations Group, and a detachment from the Royal Air Force, as well as contractors.

Another 33 airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing at Travis, in California, gave a boost to Ascension’s existing airfield infrastructure, providing command and control, communications and aerial port services for the massive operation.

In all, 4.4 million pounds of cargo, 1,600 passengers and 103 aircraft transiting the island during the mission. On average, one military aircraft arrived or departed Ascension’s airfield every 3.5 hours for 24 straight days.

Major Michael Campbell, Detachment 2 commander on the island, said: “It took the combined efforts of every agency on Ascension, as well as the deployed airmen, to support the heightened operations tempo and make this mission a success.”

SEE ALSO: Ascension ‘off-limits’ as US prepares for Iran nuclear crisis

LINK: Airmen transform sleepy Atlantic outpost into critical air transport hub for Presidential visit

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About Simon Pipe

Former print and BBC journalist, running St Helena Online news website about British territories in the South Atlantic at www.sthelenaonline.org and blogging occasionally on other sites.
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