YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Members of the 36th Airlift Squadron, 459th Airlift Squadron and the 21st Special Operations Squadron out of Yokota Air Base, Japan, came together to complete a 17 aircraft Samurai Surge training exercise, May 21, 2020.
The Samurai Surge exercise involved 17 aircraft for an elephant walk and a C-130 formation flight. Of those 17, two were CV-22 Osprey aircraft from the 353rd Special Operations Group. This event showcased the 374th Airlift Wing’s mission capability, adaptability and readiness to respond to disaster relief scenarios and contingency operations across Yokota’s area of responsibility to maintain regional stability in the Indo-Pacific, even in the face of an ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to inclement weather the morning of the event, a previously scheduled larger formation flight was reduced and launched as a smaller C-130J formation and a low-cost, low-altitude airdrop portion of the exercise was cancelled in effort to ensure the safety of aircrew and individuals in the surrounding Tokyo metropolitan area.
“An elephant walk is a critical test for not only our aircrew, but our maintenance and airfield operations teams,” said Capt. Melinda Marlow, 36th AS C-130J pilot and scheduler. “It showcases our ability to launch multiple aircraft out of a large formation to execute an airdrop mission. To make that happen, our entire operation begins with our maintenance team that has to put in a ton of work to make sure our aircraft are ready to go out and make that mission happen.”
As a significantly larger-than-normal aircraft formation, a total of nine C-130J’s, two CV-22’s, three C-12 Hurons and three UH-1N Iroquois participated in the event.
“Seeing an elephant walk is great. Seeing our work in action, our ability to generate such a large formation and what it is capable of doing is just an amazing experience to be a part of,” added MSgt. David Arnold, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-130J production superintendent. “This is proof that we can take our entire fleet to get them ready to execute any mission that comes down, putting our air power in action.”
This year, the exercise was conducted while under the restrictions of an ongoing pandemic, a situation that forced Airmen to rethink how these formations were planned, produced, and executed while following established guidelines and policies to prevent any potential exposure.
“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on how we go about our mission planning, but not so much when it comes to our execution of that mission,” said Marlow. “If anything, it has allowed us to practice utilizing some of the tools and resources we have but don’t get to utilize very often. While the [physical] distancing aspect is unique, that distance in planning is a very realistic hurdle we routinely face when planning our real-world missions to respond to things that arise in our area of responsibility.
“We had to plan our flights and coordinate every detail from separate locations but at the end of the day, that 17 aircraft formation we mobilized today is the same level of mobilization we would have achieved prior to COVID-19. The C-130J’s mobilized are capable of delivering two battalions of paratroopers or up to 360K lbs. of cargo anywhere in the Pacific and COVID-19 doesn’t change that.”