U.S. Air Force, Army conduct HIMARS load training exercise with Tunisian Air Force

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Mary Andom
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany—It seemed like an impossible fit. The U.S. Army M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launcher slowly inched back into a Tunisian Air Force C-130J Super Hercules.

There was no room for error, just 108 inches or 54 on either side, for the 35,800 pound vehicle to fit snugly into the cavity of a “Herc.” The air hissed as the tires deflated, a Soldier perched on the hood of the chassis carefully scrutinizing the height with a yellow measuring tape.

The coordinated effort brought together Tunisian and U.S. Air Force loadmasters along with U.S. Army HIMARS personnel during a joint load training exercise conducted May 4 on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Personnel from the 37th Airlift Squadron here, along with U.S. Army personnel from the 4th Battalion,133rd Field Artillery Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, and the Tunisian Air Force trained on the proper procedures for loading and lifting HIMARS onto a C-130J.

"Loading a HIMARS isn’t necessarily difficult but with minimal experience it can be challenging,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brayden T. Allen, 37th AS C-130J instructor loadmaster. “The vehicle is quite tall and heavy so it’s important to make sure you drive it into the cargo compartment of the aircraft in a slow and controlled manner to ensure the safety of the personnel and equipment involved in loading and downloading.”

The HIMARS rocket artillery system is a light multiple rocket launcher mounted on a truck frame carrying six rockets. Manned by a three-person crew consisting of a commander, driver and gunner, the system can be transported easily aboard C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft for rapid deployment across the world.

Before the HIMARS could be loaded onto the aircraft, it required expert precision in weight and balance computation, as well as calculating the center of gravity. The 435th Contingency Response Squadron here provided training to the Tunisian Air Force C-130J aircrew prior to the load.

“It is vital to have the proper documentation and ensure all safety procedures are followed,” said 1st Lt. Miguel Verduzco, 4-133rd FAR unit movement officer. “If this is incorrect, it could be a matter of life or death.”

For U.S. Army Sgt. Erica Nieto, a HIMARS gunner assigned to the 4-133rd FAR, the exercise provided invaluable hands-on training and proficiency in airlift and air mobility support operations.

“This is my first time overseas and it feels amazing to be a part of this mission. I get the ability to test my skills and build my confidence outside of home station,” said Nieto. “This is a great opportunity to practice airlift operations and HIMARS Rapid Aerial Infiltration (HIRAIN) with the U.S. and Tunisian Air Force.”

The joint load training kicked off African Lion, U.S. Africa Command's largest, premier, annual exercise, hosted across Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia, April 19 to May 31. The joint, all-domain, multi-component, and multinational exercise includes more than 8,100 participants from 27 nations, including contingents from NATO.

African Lion aims to strengthen interoperability among participants and build readiness to respond to crises and contingencies in Africa and around the world. This year marks the exercise’s 20th anniversary.

Exercise activities will include a command post exercise, field training exercises, a live-fire demonstration and humanitarian demonstration and humanitarian civic assistance program events. Additionally, humanitarian civic assistance missions will feature a combination of medical, dental and veterinary assistance and exchanges across Morocco, Ghana and Senegal.