OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- If airpower is the key to victory, then firepower is the key to airpower. One of the keys to getting firepower where the U.S. Air Force needs it on the Korean peninsula is the 51st Munitions Squadron’s retrograde operation.
Retrograde operations analyze which base has stock of munitions and transporting those munitions to bases who need them. It is also a time to clear out unusable inventory for proper disposal.
“Retrograde is our chance to redistribute good munitions to bases who need them as well as get rid of our unserviceable assets in larger quantities than we can fit in an aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Heward, 51 MUNS shipping and receiving non-commissioned officer in charge. “It’s kind of a big round-robin game.”
While the 51 MUNS keeps the base stocked with fresh munitions throughout the year, the shipments are limited by how much each delivery aircraft can carry. Since retrograde requests are shipped by boat instead of by air, a much larger shipment can be made.
“Throughout the year we send out a pallet here and a pallet there,” Heward said. “Here we send out hundreds of pallets at a time.”
To prepare the shipment, 51 MUNS have spent roughly the last four weeks not just packing the munitions away for shipment, but also getting them inspected for approval and delivered to the nearby secure staging area off base. This meant constant shipments from Osan.
“My crew put in 172 man-hours over the month of July just moving munitions,” said Senior Airman Sierra Ordaz, 51st MUNS stockpile management crew chief. “I think it was close to 100 million dollars of munitions that I personally delivered to this location.”
During the large munitions movement, 51 MUNS personnel continued their support of day-to-day operations. Their preparation for the retrograde operation enabled the team to operate while fulfilling their typical mission obligations.
“We’re still supporting flying missions. We’re still inspecting missiles on the flight line, still cataloguing stored munitions, and so on,” said Heward. “We’re doing everything on top of what we do at our normal job.”
Retrograde operations have had some challenges and COVID-19 has challenged leaders to overcome creative circumstances to accomplish the mission. The hands-on knowledge has inspired leaders to increase training and focus on the basic standards of discipline when handling munitions with the large amounts of team turnover.
“Everybody left in January of 2020,” said Heward. “Right now we only have one person who did a retrograde last time.”
In spite of the challenges 51 MUNS personnel have faced with this year’s retrograde operation, the squadron maintained readiness and remains the munitions hub of the Korean peninsula, ensuring each installation stands ready in a moment’s notice.