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Ungainly Bird Serves as U.S. Military Lifeline

Logistics: Rugged transports fly supplies and replacements to carriers in Arabian Sea. They carry 28 people or 10,000 pounds of cargo.


FROM A U.S. NAVY FACILITY IN THE PERSIAN GULF REGION--It is an axiom of war that amateurs talk of tactics but professionals talk of logistics--the complex science of moving troops, weaponry and other supplies to the front.

Much of the public discussion of the U.S. military hardware in Afghanistan will dwell on sophisticated surveillance drones and the prowess of warplanes like the B-52, the B-1, the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet.

But without the 24-hour-a-day assistance of an ungainly, hard-to-fly, boxcar-resembling Navy airplane called the C-2 Greyhound, the ability of the U.S. military to keep two carrier battle groups waging war from the northern Arabian Sea would have been severely undercut.

From locations throughout the region--which the Navy and host nations prefer not to reveal--the Greyhounds, some of the oldest planes in the Navy, have kept the carriers and their supporting ships supplied with the replacement personnel, spare parts and other items necessary for a sustained assault on Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds.

Los Angeles Times Thursday January 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Landing speed--A Jan. 4 story in Section A overstated the speed of the U.S. Navy's C-2 Greyhound aircraft as it lands aboard an aircraft carrier. Navy officials say the speed is approximately 150 to 200 feet per second.

Each carrier brings its own Greyhounds, twin-engine turboprops with 80-foot wingspans. Those serving the John C. Stennis carrier battle group, for example, are from North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado near San Diego, from a squadron called the Providers.

The name may lack military machismo, but the squadron's cargo handlers, aviators and mechanics are buoyed by the fact that, without them, the carriers would soon be hurting and the air war would be diminished.

"We're essential," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Cody Fuller, 19, of Rosburg, Ore. "That's a good feeling."

The Greyhounds are in the air every day, shuttling between land bases and carriers on trips that can last several hours. From the carriers, helicopters ferry troops and gear to smaller ships, and copters and fixed-wing aircraft supply the front.

With troops spread over hundreds of miles in Afghanistan, a steady flow of supplies is essential. The U.S. has been determined not to suffer the same fate the Soviets did during their Afghan misadventure in the 1980s, when their troops were continually hampered by supply problems.

"We're so spread out, it's like having your right flank in Charleston and your left flank in New York City," said Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes, a commander with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "Logistics is everything."

Like a lot of equipment in the U.S. military, the Greyhounds have been targeted for replacement, but so far the Pentagon has found money only for short-term fixes and modifications. A 50,000-pound airplane landing on a carrier deck at 500 to 700 feet per second--and then being yanked suddenly to a stop by an arresting wire--takes a beating.

"You've got to give them a lot of tender, loving care to make 'em fly," said Petty Officer 1st Class David Collins, 30, of Houston.

The Greyhound is notoriously difficult to fly. For one thing, its twin propellers rotate in the same direction, requiring great effort by pilots to maintain stability, particularly during a carrier landing, one of the trickiest, scariest maneuvers in naval aviation.

"It's like flying a dump truck with a flat tire," said Lt. Noah Collins, 26, of Mountain Dale, N.Y., a pilot. "It's a big, heavy airplane that's a handful to fly. It's unglamorous, but it gets the job done."

The plane's name is Greyhound, but few know it by that term.

To Navy sailors and admirals alike, it is the "cod," an acronym for carrier-onboard-delivery. The cod has space for 28 passengers, who sit in darkness in a tight squeeze, or for 10,000 pounds of cargo.

With the plane's limited amount of space, discussions about who gets on a flight and who gets bumped can be vigorous.

"We're not exactly running Delta Airlines here," said Lt. j.g. Paul Doyle, 28, of Boston, onshore logistics officer for the Stennis battle group. "We have priorities, and people have to remember that."

One day, priority was given to two U.S. senators over two professional football cheerleaders making a morale-boosting trip to one of the carriers. On another day, a young sailor was bumped to make room for a newspaper reporter.

If at all possible, mail is given preference. Even in the era of e-mail, a letter or package from home is still a much valued commodity.

"You can't send cookies from home or a message scented with perfume over e-mail," said David Collins, the petty officer. "That's the main reason everybody is happy to see us."

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