As many of you know, the Caribou mission in Afghanistan has come to an end after serving our conventional and special operations forces for more than three years. The “Low Cost Low Altitude” (or LCLA) mission supplied the frontline troops at combat outposts with vital supplies such as ammunition, water, and food. The lives of many US military forces were undoubtedly saved by LCLA missions and the brave men who operated them. The LCLA team continually accomplished what others thought impossible – operating in a combat zone safely, within the bounds of FAA regulations, and with superior performance. I can’t get into specifics in regards to reliability, missions flown, or bundles delivered, but I can say without hesitation that what may have been the most challenging contract-provided air service in history was conducted to levels of excellence never seen before. How do I know? The admiration shown by the customers that were served by LCLA have approached me personally to convey their thanks for superior performance. As an example, the team routinely conducted missions with short notice to deliver emergency supplies to troops that were in desperate need. This included aerial delivery of MRAP tires to a unit that had run over an IED and were therefore immobilized, the first-ever successful aerial resupply delivery into the Korengal Valley, and countless missions to support our frontline warriors.
I was in Afghanistan when we won the LCLA contract in 2011 and I remember calling back to the operations team and specifically saying that we could not do this mission without the best of the best pilots, loadmasters, tactical operators and maintenance technicians in the business. This mission was not for everyone and required special skills and experience. When the call went out to fill these vital positions, the best answered the call. This includes Rick Larson, who knew the mission better than anyone in the world. Rick did whatever was needed to make LCLA successful, including tactical operations, site management and in-country lead manager. Dean Nelsen has undoubtedly flown more LCLA missions than anyone on the planet and was instrumental in the success of the program. Dean not only acted as PIC, he was also an instructor pilot and taught many of our crewmembers how to conduct low-level LCLA missions. Dylan Rodgers came to FlightWorks with substantial Caribou time and brought an immediate knowledge base to our team. Dylan flew many LCLA missions, was an instructor pilot and resident expert on all things Caribou. John Early, Ron Stampler, and Travis Huelsebusch rounded out the best pilot team serving in Afghanistan.
Tony Silva and Aaron Christensen performed one of the most difficult tasks associated with LCLA – planning the missions as tactical operators, or “Tac Ops”. The enormous amount of data to plan missions would be overwhelming to most, but not to Tac Ops. They were experts in terrain planning, threat posture, intelligence gathering and ultimately delivering a safe plan for each mission. When I first witnessed Tac Ops in person, I gained a new level of respect for the enormous detail required to plan and execute a mission. No one has ever done it better than this team.
Alex Madrigal, Chris Lareau and Brian Blythe worked tirelessly to provide the most professional loadmaster services seen in contract aviation. Together they insured proper loading of the aircraft, flew on countless missions, insured proper rigging of bundles, and ultimately released the bundles on target, often inside the walls of combat outposts so troops could safely recover the bundles and their critical contents.
The maintenance team of Mark Maniscalco and Tony Capps kept a remarkable reliability rate on the Caribou, possibly posting the best reliability of any contract aircraft to serve in Afghanistan. The maintenance team arrived at work early, went to bed late, and just flat-out made the operation a success through their dedication to serving the end-user. While not technically assigned to the LCLA project, Don Woody, Kevin Carrell and Lou Wilson were an integral part of the maintenance solution in Bagram and contributed to the incredible reliability of the aircraft.
Why did these men answer the call to serve on the LCLA contract? I believe it was due to an unrelenting appetite to serve the frontline warrior, to feel like you are making a difference, and to be part of something special. When you see a team member that served on LCLA, take a moment to thank them for serving the frontline warrior and saving the lives of American troops in combat. I am proud to be on the same team as those that served on the LCLA contract. Now, we will find another client that needs the superior skills that only our team members can provide via the FlightWorks LCLA solution.