DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFPN)
-- Ken Robertson had a dream: Recognize the efforts of rapid air
mobility, Dover's 436th Airlift Wing and the C-5 in helping Israel help
themselves and preserving world peace.
Two years and 52 days later, the
retired officer's vision culminated into reality as a two-day
celebration Oct. 13-14, dubbed "Nickel Grass 25," highlighted the past,
complimented the present and looked to the future of air mobility here.
The past began Oct. 6, 1973, when
Egypt and Syria launch a two-front attack on Israel. The Yom Kippur War
began, inflicting serious losses on the Israelis. By Oct. 13,
peacekeeping initiatives had failed, the Soviet Union began airlifting
supplies to Egypt and Syria, and Jordan and Iraq had troops en route to
reinforce the Syrians.
President Nixon, faced with the
possibility of an Arab oil embargo for his actions or the potential of
Israel using nuclear weapons as a result of his inaction, said, "Send
everything that can fly." That launched Operation Nickel Grass.
At 10:01 p.m. Oct. 14, a C-5A flown
by members of Dover Air Force Base's 3rd Military Airlift Squadron
touched down at Lod Airport, Israel, carrying 97 tons of ammunition. The
landing kicked off a re-supply operation signifying U.S. commitment to
preserving the balance of power in the Middle East.
During the 31-day operation, 567
missions flew into Lod, delivering nearly 23,000 tons of equipment such
as tanks, ammunition and relief supplies. Dover directly supported 364
missions. The aerial port unit loaded more than 7,800 tons of cargo
aboard C-5s and C-141s, and Dover's newly acquired C-5s flew 109
missions, delivering more than 8,000 tons into the country.
"The arrival of tanks and artillery
shells enabled us to complete our missions," said Maj. Gen. Itzhak
Hoffi, commander of Israel's northern front.
A cease-fire was issued Oct. 26, but
the airlift continued until the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1973. Operation
Nickel Grass came to an end when a Dover C-5 landed at Lod delivering
143,000 pounds of cargo.
"For generations to come, all will be
told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States
bringing in the material that meant life to our people," Israeli Prime
Minister Golda Meir proclaimed at the time.
Despite the consequences of an Arab
oil embargo, strained relations between the United States and its NATO
allies, and the potential use of nuclear weapons escalating to a new
level, Operation Nickel Grass scored many victories for air mobility.
"Nickel Grass proved the worth of the
Air Force's new C-5, which had been plagued by budget overruns at the
time," Robertson said. "It also brought about the need for air refueling
capability in all strategic airlifters for a more rapid worldwide
response. In addition, the need for more carrying capacity was revealed
in the C-141 and it was 'stretched' an additional 23 feet. And finally,
the operation revealed the need to align command of all military airlift
under the Military Airlift Command."
Robertson, a retired Air Force
officer, worked at then-Military Airlift Command headquarters at Scott
AFB, Ill., when the command received orders to re-supply Israel during
the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
"This was MAC's alone," he said. "It
was a critical element in demonstrating the importance of airlift as an
instrument of U.S. national policy. The Berlin Airlift has been
remembered. Nickel Grass has not, and I hope this helps resurrect it."
To assist in the resurrection,
Robertson wrote a 70-page history titled, "Operation Nickel Grass, the
Airlift to Israel and Coronation of the C-5 Galaxy." He also formed a
committee of base and community officials who helped plan the two-day
event. It included: a reception with the unveiling of a painting by
aviation artist Gil Cohen; a roundtable discussion with Nickel Grass
participants; a C-5 dedication; a briefing on the future of air
mobility; and a banquet. The painting, along with a Nickel Grass
exhibit, is on permanent display in Dover's Air Mobility Command Museum.
"There is still controversy today on
how much impact the airlift actually had, and we will never know what
might have happened had it not been for Operation Nickel Grass,"
Robertson said. "No one really knows, but I must ask, what would have
happened if the United States wouldn't have come at all?" (Courtesy of
AMC News Service)