The rushing wind whipped around airmen on the open ramp of an airborne C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as the last rays of the sun glistened off the surface of the ocean and illuminated the islands sprinkled along the Greek coastline.
With a sudden lurch, the C-130 banked to the right, turning the rosy scenery almost completely sideways, quickly tailed by two more in its wake. The three aircraft raced across the sky, weaving around each other while the sun slipped lazily to sleep, leaving everything dark in its wake.
Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Gee, 37th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, along with approximately 110 other 37th AS airmen, have participated in Exercise Stolen Cerberus IV, held here from April 18-28. He and other loadmasters have worked alongside the U.S. soldiers and Hellenic air force members to perform personnel and cargo airdrops out of C-130 aircraft.
“Here specifically, our big focus is working with our friends in Greece,” Gee said. “We try to strengthen our training with them and it’s been going well.”
While loadmasters are only one aspect of all the moving parts that make the exercise possible, they are an important one.
“Without loadmasters, there wouldn’t be any air drops, which are a huge part of this training,” Gee said. “You can’t fly at all without one. Besides airdrops, we’re constantly on the flight deck backing up the pilots, making sure airspeeds are okay, or we’ll hook up night vision goggles and look around at night as an extra set of eyes. However, the important stuff is in the back of the plane: getting these paratroopers out, dropping cargo, getting in our training and getting people qualified.”
During the exercise, Gee and his coworkers will prepare C-130s to drop Greek paratroopers, heavy equipment, platforms, container delivering system bundles and low-cost low-altitude bundles.
Throughout the exercise, the more experienced loadmasters trained Greek service members as well as younger loadmasters on a variety of air drops. One such qualification training Gee underwent was for LCLA bundles. Air Force Master Sgt. CJ Campbell, 37th AS loadmaster, trained Gee on how to perform the drop.
“The Greeks have been receptive to the training we’ve given them, as well as the young loadmasters like Gee,” Campbell said. “The LCLA training I gave him earlier this week, he was very receptive to everything I had to teach him and was able to recite everything back and perform as an experienced loader.”
“Airman Gee is a very competent loadmaster, even as young as he is,” Campbell continued. “He is very methodical in his thought processes and doesn’t fly from the hip. It’s very comforting to fly with a young loadmaster who has such maturity in the airplane.”
Gee is grateful for an opportunity to further his skills as a loadmaster.
“I hope to become more proficient with this job in general during this exercise,” Gee said. “There’s a lot of training we’re getting done out here, learning to work with people from other countries, and even just being in a different location than home station provides training.”
The exercise offers many unique opportunities for training and qualification, but it also provides airmen like Gee an opportunity to work alongside NATO allies.
“My favorite part, so far, has been working with the Hellenic air force,” Gee said. “It’s really great to see the different perspective of jumpers from a different country, seeing what they do and how they act. It’s a unique experience.”
He added, “I love this job. I mean, we’re in Greece; the traveling is why I enjoy it so much. There can be some long nights, but it’s all really worth it. It’s really difficult not to enjoy this job.”
In Greece, the weather “is beautiful for flying,” Gee said.
“It’s a beautiful country to be in, and it’s great to come out here and cooperate with the Hellenic air force for this exercise,” he said. “It’s been a really great experience for me.”
In its fourth iteration, Exercise Stolen Cerberus continues to provide an opportunity for airman like Gee to experience and strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and Greece.