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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When most people think about military aircraft, they envision fighter jets streaking through the sky or massive cargo planes air-dropping thousands of pounds of equipment and troops.

They don’t tend to picture a small, twin turboprop plane like the C-12J Huron.

But don’t let the size or look fool you. The C-12 carries its load in the military, too.

A group of C-12J planes and their pilots assigned to Yokota’s 459th Airlift Squadron got their chance to shine during a recent deployment to support Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, a U.S. special operations mission aimed at helping the Philippine military deal with insurgents and terrorist organizations.

Transporting cargo and personnel during the four-month deployment, the pilots often found themselves landing on rural runways, some no more than 4,000 feet long, explained Capt. Troy Saechao, the OEF-P mission commander. Yokota’s runway is about 11,000 feet long.

Other fields lacked navigational aid and control towers, meaning pilots had to depend on their eyesight rather than instruments to land, he said.

“There’s no tower. There’s no requesting to land,” said Capt. Omar Rashid, one of the pilots who went on the deployment. “There’s just a cow and a windsock.”

This was the first deployment of the C-12s from Yokota. The planes arrived at the base near Tokyo in late June, replacing the smaller, jet-powered C-21.

“The C-21 couldn’t have done the job in the Philippines,” said 1st Lt. Logan Draves, who was on his first deployment.

“I was excited,” he said, explaining that they never knew what conditions they would find at some of the runways. Once on Jolo Island, he said, “was like an uphill sidewalk. But I knew the aircraft could handle it.”

“The C-21 is like a Mercedes,” Rashid said. “The C-12 is more like a Bronco.”

Thirteen pilots and four maintenance contractors deployed between September and December, transporting roughly 90,000 pounds of cargo and 900 passengers over the course of 80 missions, Saechao said.

Passengers included servicemembers, government officials, and even the British and American ambassadors, Draves said.

Rashid said some of the most rewarding missions were when they transported Special Forces soldiers.

“We were wearing polo shorts and slacks to not stick out as military, and we’d pick up these Army guys in full battle gear, and it reminds you that this is a war zone,” he said. “You feel like you really did your job that day.”


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