It was a three day operation and the largest of its kind yet for an ever evolving military. From land to sea to air, Exercise Dragon Lifeline was a culmination of months of planning. The final phase began on the night of Aug. 8, with a jolting thud and a long rattle, as a Charleston based C-17 touched down on a narrow, gravel covered runway in North Carolina, carrying more than 50,000 pounds of military equipment.
The actual exercise began on Aug. 6, as a convoy of soldiers from Fort Bragg made its way to Joint Base Charleston for rail and port operations. Once they arrived at Joint Base Charleston, a coordinated effort to load vehicles onto the massive, Cape Decision cargo vessel began.
“The planning process started about eight months ago and that was just from the infant stage of planning to the execution,” said LtCol. Ricardo Jones. “From the time the alert happened early on Monday morning to the time the first convoy arrived here was less than about 10 hours.”
In some way, all four branches of the military are involved. The operation included nearly 500 personnel and more than 200 pieces of equipment. It’s all about readiness and working together in a modern military.
“The days of being service centric are gone,” said Army Gen. James Smith, Commanding General of the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command at Fort Bragg. “To deploy at scale to what we are replicating right now, we need all of the services that are involved.... You need all the services working together in harmony to deploy.”
It’s all about doing it at a moment’s notice ensuring a seamless and efficient deployment. Exercises of this scope will now happen annually.
“The coordination is continuous,” said Lt. Brenton Breed from Joint Base Charleston. “From about February on I was in constant contact with the units working on various things to how are they going to get water to how are we going to get from point-a-to-point-b,” he said. “All of those things, we planned and we planned and we practice and we make sure that it works out.”
Getting gear and troops where they need to be rapidly, could not happen without the proper place to train. Joint Base Charleston sits on close to 24,000 acres and includes 39 miles of rail and 22 miles of coastline. It also has the C-17.
On Aug. 8 at 9:15p.m. the planes began to take soldiers and their equipment back to North Carolina.
“It’s a dirt runway; a semi-prepared runway is what we call it,” said TSgt. Scott Stubben, the Loadmaster on the trip.
The plane landed on the rough strip to simulate what may be found in a real-world scenario. The goal for the training was to have everything completed and unloaded in about 10 minutes.
“We’re simulating a quick turn-around time on the ground,” said Stubben. “We’re going to leave the engine running. We’re going to drop down the back. We’re going to get all the troops off and then we’ll get all the cargo off right behind it.”
The mission was accomplished. The plane took off from Charleston at 9:15 p.m. By 10:15 p.m. the plane was unloaded and taxing down the thin, rocky runway for the return.
“This is all the Army’s stuff and it’s loaded they don’t get as much training on loading their stuff as they would like, just like we don’t get enough training actually flying their stuff into these environments,” said Maj. Jeffrey Pecora, pilot and aircraft commander.
“In the real world there could be very dangerous situations where everyone needs to be on the same page.”