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Dolphins deploy with Rainier Wing

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Swimming with dolphins can be a rare, life changing experience, and it's not every day that a Reserve wing gets to transport specially trained U.S. Navy bomb detecting dolphins.

Four dolphins from U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) were transported by the Rainier Wing from San Diego to Key West, Florida March 13.

The NMMP uses dolphins in operational programs for swimmer defense – to detect swimmers, divers and swimmer delivery vehicles, and if the handler determines the situation warrants, to mark them; and mine countermeasures – to detect bottom mines and moored mines.

Dolphins are used for these tasks because their extraordinary natural biological sonar capabilities enable them to find objects in waters where hardware sonars do not work well due to poor acoustic environmental conditions, according to NMMP.

The air movement of the Navy marine mammals is a unique occurrence and it is important for the dolphins' health and safety to transfer them as carefully and quickly as possible from their home enclosure to their forward deployment pens.

This makes the C-17 Globemaster III the perfect conduit to serve their transportation needs because they were able to fly nonstop to their destination with enough space for all of their required equipment, making their transition as seamless as possible.

Three loadmasters from the 97th Airlift Squadron worked quickly to load their unique passengers. It took roughly an hour to load the four dolphin containers totaling 11,000 pounds, two 500-pound water filtration systems, one 9,000-pound truck, and two additional 2,500-pound pallets of required equipment.

"The cargo is always different, but the mission is the same, which is to transport cargo all over the world as efficiently as possible," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Walsh, loadmaster from the 97th Airlift Squadron.

"We train hard, and it's a lot of fun to have the training to be able to do stuff like this," said Walsh. "I'm once again amazed by the opportunities the U.S. Air Force Reserve has afforded me."

On the flight deck of the C-17, pilots worked to make sure the aircraft's atmosphere kept the dolphins comfortable. The cargo bay had to be kept below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and aircraft pressurization had to be kept below 6,000 feet, said Maj. James Wilson, 97th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot.

"From before takeoff to landing, we're doing all we can to make their travel as comfortable as possible," said Wilson.

Reservists never miss an opportunity to train and during the dolphin transport flight members from the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron trained for notional inflight patient care.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve performs 66 percent of all aeromedical evacuation missions worldwide. The Citizen Airmen of the 446th AW train to ensure they are prepared for any real-world medical mission at any time.

"We're approaching our deployment phase, which is why this training comes at such an opportune time," said Major Beverly Davidson, 446th AES flight nurse. "We're able to complete our required training and have the honor of flying with these extraordinary dolphins."

It's safe to say the dolphins were in safe hands throughout their transport to Key West, where they will continue their training exercise.