Rare bird: C-5 lands in New Castle as part of joint exercise

A C-5 Galaxy from Dover Air Force Base made a rare landing at New Castle County Regional Airport on Thursday afternoon as part of a joint emergency exercise that took place between Dover Air Force Base personnel and many from the Delaware National Guard. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

NEW CASTLE — The joint exercise that took place on Thursday afternoon between airmen from Dover Air Force Base and the Delaware National Guard wasn’t about the rare 12-minute flight from the state capital to New Castle Regional Airport that took place at the end of the day.

Rather, it was a preparation exercise that will help ensure that the entities from Kent and New Castle County are well-coordinated should they be called to work together in an emergency-type situation like a weather disaster or any other catastrophe that might come along.

Those involved in the operation got a surprise when a loaded C-17 was unable to make the trip to Dover due to a glitch. It was just the type of event that senior officials might have been crossing their fingers for so that they will be even more prepared in the event of a real-life emergency.

Bernie Kale, Delaware National Guard State Public Affairs Director, had been anticipating what he believed was going to be the first time a C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Super Galaxy would have simultaneously been at the New Castle Airport.

A joint exercise took place between Dover Air Force Base personnel and many from the Delaware National Guard on Thursday afternoon, simulating a coordinated response to an emergency. Motor vehicles and supplies were loaded onto a C-5 and C-17 at Dover Air Force Base. The C-5 flew its cargo to New Castle Regional Airport but the C-17 was unable to make it due to a glitch. (Submitted photo)

However, that never unfolded, though many onlookers appeared to be enjoying their rare up-close looks with the C-5, the largest strategic airlifter in the United States Air Force that is capable of carrying more than 280,000 pounds of cargo.

Lt. Col. Garland Pennington, director of the Joint Operations Center, was pleased with the overall effort by all the airmen and soldiers that participated in the exercise, which included vehicle and cargo transport from the Delaware National Guard’s elite 31st Civil Support Team and other DNG Army and Air vehicles and personnel.

“What we are trying to accomplish with the exercise was building a partnership with Dover Air Force Base, our team right down the road,” Lt. Col. Pennington said. “Every now and then we need to call on our active duty Title 10 men and women to help us out with transportation.

“In this scenario we had some of our equipment sets, mobility sets, tasked to go down to Dover and get loaded up and simulate responding to an incident. This particular set we had transportation elements that would support moving of equipment and commodities to people in need before the distribution could be established.”

It started bright and early in the morning for many of the participants — and then ran late — as the C-5, expected to land in New Castle Thursday morning, didn’t touch down until 2:40 in the afternoon. Such is life in the military. Nothing is ever guaranteed.

“There were a lot of lessons learned that were captured,” said Lt. Col. Pennington. “We had 436th, and also 166th folks from our IG team, that were here up in New Castle as well as down in Dover just doing an assessment on how things are going. We’ll reconvene in a couple of weeks just to talk about what went well and what didn’t go so well that we’ll be prepared and do it better the next time we do an exercise like this.”

The issue with the C-17 was difficulty in getting a trailer that was hooked on the back of a vehicle onto the aircraft.

Col. Dawn Junk, commander of the 166th Mission Support Group, said that despite a couple of missteps the exercise was an overall success.

“It was very productive,” Col. Junk said. “The relationship will continue to build and mature with the active duty, the Reserve and the National Guard, both the Army and the Air (Force). It is amazing. The flight itself is merely just part of the whole exercise.

“A lot of it is about communication, which is the success to any coordination, and we’ve learned a lot of great communications, avenues where we need to work on it a little bit more, but also areas where we find ourselves consistently succeeding in.”

She added, “That’s all part of the exercise because then there’s the time where we can make some adjustments and make it correct so that when we need it and we can’t afford adjustments, we are ready to make that a success.”

Lt. Col. Pennington said the participants in the exercise never know when the training will be needed — but it’s a great thing to be prepared.

“This is so we can practice, train and exercise,” he said, “then when we do the call for the real-world incident then we’re prepared and we know each other and we know what we need to be able to do to meet the mission.

“This scenario is perfect for, just two years ago there was Hurricane Maria in 2017, and from Delaware we did send some of these trucks and some of these soldiers there to help. This is simulating a scenario like that if they need to call on air transportation to help us get equipment sent down to municipalities that may not be easy to reach by land.”

It didn’t go unnoticed to Lt. Col. Pennington what a rare sight it was for a C-5 Galaxy to be sitting on a taxiway at New Castle Airport.

“Very rarely do we have a C-5 up here in New Castle, so this is pretty historic for us to have a response and an airplane this size in New Castle,” he said. “Overall, it was a good day for all of us. We got some good training in.”

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