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C-17 training sorties keep airfield management busy

Senior Master Sgt. Chanda Keesecker, Tech. Sgt. Alan Romero, Senior Airman Daniel Lord, Master Sgt. Kelley McKinney and Dean Parker test a cover for one of the visual approach slope indicator lights on the runway at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Feb 6.  The VASI covers are used to block the lights during night vision training for the C-17 aircraft. The cover was made by Parker, the fabrication contractor for the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/ released)

Senior Master Sgt. Chanda Keesecker, Tech. Sgt. Alan Romero, Senior Airman Daniel Lord, Master Sgt. Kelley McKinney and Dean Parker test a cover for one of the visual approach slope indicator lights on the runway at the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va., Feb 6. The VASI covers are used to block the lights during night vision training for the C-17 aircraft. The cover was made by Parker, the fabrication contractor for the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle/ released)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va -- As the 167th Airlift Wing moves closer to being a fully operational C-17 aircraft unit, regular training flights are now being launched.
Starting in mid-January, three training missions are scheduled each week giving air crews the opportunity to train on assault landings, aerial refueling, night vision goggles, low level flying, combat on and off-loads, and touch and go's.
The sorties are part of the continuous training for the qualified C-17 air crews that have returned from C-17 pilot and loadmaster courses at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
These training missions can't happen without the support of numerous personnel on the ground including those in the airfield management office.
"We spend a lot more of our day out on the airfield now," said Senior Master Sgt. Chanda Keesecker, 167th airfield management superintendent. 
The airfield management office completes airfield inspections at least once a day.
"We make sure lights are working, we do FOD (foreign object and debris) checks and we check the signs," Keesecker explained. "When there is a snow or ice event we do decelerometer checks which give air crew proper runway condition readings to determine if the runway is too slick to take off or land."
The office also conducts wildlife mitigation which consists of using pyrotechnics to disperse birds that have congregated near the airfield.
Supporting assault landings however, is one of the most significant additions to the list of airfield management's responsibilities since the C-17 training flights began.
"Assault landing capabilities expand the utilization of the airframe," said Lt. Col. Stuart Brown, the acting 167th operations group commander.
C-17s are designed to have short take-off and landing capabilities, they need 3500 feet of runway to land, he explained.
Runway two-six, the runway most commonly used here, is more than 8800 feet long .  So, the airfield management office puts lighting systems out to simulate the shorter runway the C-17 crews may encounter in an assault zone.
The C-17 pilots practice assault landings in daylight and at night with the assistance of night vision goggles and landing zone systems set up by the airfield management office. The landing zone system consist of four lights placed at the corners of the assault zone landing box and then another set of lights further down the runway to simulate the end of an assault landing strip.
In addition to setting up the landing zone system, airfield management covers the Visual Approach Slope Indicator lights during the night vision training. VASI's are a system of lights on the side of the runway that provide visual descent guidance to the pilots as they approach the airfield; guidance that would not be available during an assault landing.
If civilian traffic enters the pattern while the C-17 aircraft are doing night vision training landings, airfield management takes down the VASI covers and landing zone systems so the civilian aircraft can land and then reset the equipment for the C-17s.
Keesecker admits she's never had a more challenging job in her 21 years of service but she is very proud to be a part of the new mission at the wing. 

"Being out on the airfield with my team and experiencing this transition first hand has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined," said Keesecker.

The unit's first Guard lift mission is scheduled for later this month, and training missions will increase to five a week in March.