SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE

US Army Priority Air Transport marks first 20 years of service

USAPAT operates Gulfstream G550, 2 GVs, 1 GIV, 1 GIII and 3 Citation Encores for high-level executive transport.

By Phil Rose
Managing Editor


USAPAT team members with UC35B and C37B at Andrews AFB. Total unit strength averages 125.

Since the unit's inception on Aug 1, 1988, the men and women of US Army Priority Air Transport (USAPAT) have been tasked with providing VIP transport for senior Army and government leaders and it goes without saying completing all missions flawlessly.

Making up USAPAT's primary customer list are the Secretary of the Army, Army Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff, followed by major commandersie, those of Training & Doctrine Command (TRADOC) (based at Fort Monroe VA), Forces Command (FORSCOM) (based at Fort McPherson GA) and Army Materiel Command (AMC) (based at Fort Belvoir VA).

The unit also provides air transportation to Congressional delegations and combat commandersie, those of Combatant Command (COCOM). Finally, USAPAT carries individuals determined by the Executive Travel Office, which falls under the Office of Administrative Affairs (OAA). USAPAT is based at ADW (Andrews AFB, Camp Springs MD).

From here it flies 2 Gulfstream C37As (GVs), 1 C37B (G550) and 3 Cessna UC35B Citation Encores. There are also 2 overseas detachments-one at HIK (Hickam AFB, Oahu HI) with a Gulfstream C20F (GIV) and the other at RMS (Ramstein AFB, Germany) with a C20E (GIII) which support the US Army Pacific and European commanding generals, respectively.

USAPAT's 3 UC35Bs were delivered in 2000 and 2001, while the C37As were acquired in Nov 1999 and Jan 2003. The unit's C37B was added in Jan 2005. USAPAT's 3 UC35s are employed exclusively on North American ops mostly within the continental US but occasionally to Canada, Mexico and Central America.

The Gulfstreams support USAPAT's primary customers and are employed on all overseas missions. The normal tour of duty to ADW is 4 years. Tours to the subordinate detachments are 3 years, with "cross fertilization" relatively uncommon.

Full USAPAT complement averages 125. Of these, approximately 70 are flightcrew, the remaining 55 being engaged in administration, logistics and maintenance.

A 5-person crew 2 pilots, 2 flight stewards and a flight engineer is standard for any Gulfstream mission carrying 6 or more passengers. On Citations a 2-person crew is normal. Following a reorganization 3 years ago, the original USAPAT became a command.

Together with the 12th Aviation Battalion at DAA (Davison AAF, Fort Belvoir VA), USAPAT Command forms part of the Army Air Operations Group (headquartered at Fort McNair VA) within the Military District of Washington and Joint Forces HQ National Capital Region.

USAPAT operations

USAPAT Gulfstream C37B makes low pass over ADW during last year's commemoration of the unit's 20th anniversary.

Lt Col Dennis Griffin has been with USAPAT for 4 years and has been the unit's CO since Jun 2005. During the course of his 21 years in the Army he has amassed 2500 hrs TT (including 2000 hrs fixed-wing) and is an Army Master Aviator as are all pilots with the unit.

Like most USAPAT aircrew, Griffin flies around 300 hrs per year, his time divided between the C37 and UC35. Much of Griffin's time is occupied with administrative tasks, leaving perhaps 20% of his duty time for flight related activities.

Naturally, as CO he is responsible for unit oversight and team success. In practical terms, this involves such details as performing risk assessment and detailed flight planning, obtaining diplomatic clearances and achieving mission approval.

Key to USAPAT operations is the Flight Ops Cell. Heading activities here is Operations Officer-In-Charge (OIC) CW5 Steven Serchuk. With 35 years of Army service, he has 7400 hrs TT, including 4400 fixed-wing. Twelve personnel report to Serchuk 5 CW4s, 3 SFCs, 2 SSGs and 2 SGTs plus a civilian international flight planner.

(top to bottom) One of USAPAT's 3 Cessna UC35Bs. (L-R) current CO Dennis Griffin, first USAPAT CO Lt Col (retired) Doug Crockett, Army Air Ops Group Commander Col Stew Remaly and former DAA Aviation Command Commander Col (retired) William O'Neal. 1989 shot of USAPAT personnel with the unit's first 2 C20s.

For worldwide tracking and much else the Ops Cell uses Global Data Center (GDC). Serchuk explains that all pilot information is included in GDC, as are flightplans, departures and landings, location tracking, mission status, communications and messaging. Usually, Serchuk notes, the jet calendar goes 6 weeks in advance.

For overseas missions and those carrying high-ranking customers it extends 8-10 weeks out. Three Flight Ops Officers-CW4s Mark Fischer, Dan Lund and Kris Rogers-plan, schedule and execute high-priority global airlift missions in support of US Army and Dept of Defense (DoD) senior leadership.

Operations NCO-In-Charge (NCOIC) SFC Jimmy Williams has 17 years' experience as an Ops NCO, and manages the intricate details of USAPAT's daily aviation operations. Flight Ops Cell NCOIC SFC Michael LaVergne has been in the Army for 20 years and runs the unit's daily flight ops.

SSG Sabrina Sanchez ensures that all requirements for domestic USAPAT flights are completed. This includes planning and arranging airline flights, hotels and rental cars for prepositioning crews.

SGT Garian Wilcox is in charge of flight records, flying hour reports and pay certificates, and SGT Andrew Hernandez handles overseas planning, including diplomatic clearances and coordination with US embassies overseas.

International Flight Planner Gilbert Wright is a Dept of the Army civilian. A retired flight instructor and safety officer, he served 37 years in the Army (including National Guard and Army Reserve) and has 9000 hrs TT, most of them rotary-wing.

Wright collects data and information for overseas missions, including foreign regulatory compliance. He also works closely with CW4 Chris Sorrell and Hernandez on obtaining clearances and coordinating with embassies.

Then, one week prior to a mission, the crew gathers all the necessary data and doublechecks to ensure that everything is in place. By this stage, Wright will have consulted with the Air Force Intelligence Center (AFIC) as to the status of destination country.

AFIC provides intelligence services, including threat advisories and "everything that's going on," says Wright. An intel brief is required every time a USAPAT aircraft leaves the US. The US Army Aeronautical Services Agency also obtains advance approval for use of Jeppesen approaches in addition to DoD approved approach plates.

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