Relief flights sobering, officers say

May 05, 1999

167th returnsBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Flying into the rain-soaked Albanian airport near the camps for Kosovo refugees, Lt. Col. Charles J. Enders said his biggest concern was keeping his C-130 on the pavement.

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"If we got a wheel stuck in that mud, we would still be there," said Enders.

However, Enders and his fellow crew members from the Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing said their recent participation in Operation Shining Hope was no laughing matter.

"Take away everything you have tomorrow morning and that's what the situation is like for those people," said flight engineer Master Sgt. Craig Harrington.


Enders and Harrington, along with 10 other 167th base members, returned from Germany last weekend after serving a 16-day tour assisting military operations in Europe.

Hauling "anything that fit into the back of my plane," Enders described the somewhat harrowing experience of landing at a busy single-runway airport only slightly bigger than the one at Martinsburg.

The airport at Tirana, Albania, served as the focal point for relief operations and usually had dozens of aircraft on the ground with helicopters hovering nearby.

"There were civil planes, Russian aircraft, fighter jets, U.S. planes and helicopters," said Enders. "It's not chaos, but it is very busy."

Enders said his crew flew just about every other day on missions to carry everything from vehicles, mail and medicine to food, toilet paper and spare parts.

Supplies for the Kosovo refugees were taken by trucks and helicopters to camps closer to the Albanian border.

Flight crews did not have any contact with refugees and kept their engines running while crews unloaded their cargo, he said.

The view from the airport, however, confirmed for the 167th crew that the situation for refugees was as bad as they had seen on television.

"The simplest things are a godsend in their situation," said Harrington.

Enders said flight crews also flew missions to other parts of Europe, including taking supplies into Tuzla, Bosnia, and a base in Aviano, Italy, where NATO has been launching some of its offensive strike forces.

While Enders said his plane never drew ground fire, he said crews still had to contend with the dangers of flying at night into busy airports with limited space and rainy conditions.

"It's kind of like Sunday driving on a bad day," he said.

Crew members on Wednesday also thanked their families for the support they have shown during the mission.

The 167th currently has about 33 base members assisting relief efforts in Germany and will continue rotating crews to Ramstein Air Base through mid-June.

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