Air Cadet Glider Flight Hooks Blyth Native
by Shari Simpson - Special to The Citizen
Major Shane Loder had no idea how living near the Saugeen Municipal Airport in Hanover would impact him later in life.
As a young boy growing up in Blyth, he was fascinated with airplanes and would take every opportunity to watch planes take off and land. His first flight as a passenger was in an Air Cadet glider and he loved it, but it wasn’t until his last year at Central Huron Secondary School that he really pursued aviation as a career.
After several years of living in Hanover, Keith and Linda Loder, Shane’s parents, made the move back to Blyth. They had dated in the 1960s and were married in Blyth, where Linda was born and raised and where many of her family members still live.
Little did Shane know that his decision to be a pilot would lead him to Melissa, his beautiful wife whom he met while studying aviation at Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie, or to a posting at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
After graduating from college and joining the Royal Canadian Air Force, Loder completed his primary flight training on the CT-114 Tutor jet in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Upon completion of a multi-engine course in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Loder received his pilot wings. He was pleased that his grandfather, Russell Cook, was given permission to present him with his wings.
“My grandpa was my hero,” he says. “Even though he was the lowest ranking military person on the parade square that day, the highest ranking officers treated him with utmost respect. Grandpa had been shot twice while serving in World War II.”
Loder was posted to CFB Trenton in the role of Transport and Search and Rescue, flying the CC130 Hercules on various transport missions as far as Africa and the Arctic.
After five years in Trenton, he served a four-year exchange in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, with the U.S. Coast Guard and flew the C130 Hercules in Search and Rescue missions, as well as Law Enforcement missions.
On his return to Canada, he became an Operational Test Pilot during the acquisition of the new CC130J Hercules aircraft.
In preparation for his overseas deployment, Loder learned how to operate the CC130J Hercules aircraft in a tactical mission and completed pre-deployment training, which included weapons training and a battle fitness test including activities like a 10-kilometre march carrying a 50 lb. backpack, war tactics, etc.
Upon his return from Afghanistan, Loder was promoted to Major and is now the officer in charge of Training and Standardization for the new fleet of CC130J aircraft based in CFB 8 Wing Trenton.
Other than flying through rain on their approach into Kabul, there was absolutely no rain in the four months while Loder was stationed there. For the first four nights, the crew of five shared a tent eventually ending up two to a room in re-constructed sea containers. The rooms were just large enough to fit their beds and locker units, while they shared bathrooms and showers. There were five different mess halls serving meals, consisting mostly of rice.
“Living in close quarters and working with the same people for four months in a hot combat environment was a challenge,” says Loder. “Being responsible for the well-being of my crew and for the successful completion of our missions was stressful at times, however it was the most rewarding experience of my career.
“We bonded together and the crew worked hard to get the job done without complaint. We have developed close friendships that will last for the rest of our lives.”
When asked about the skills a pilot needs in a combat environment, Loder joked, saying the ability to take off and land were paramount. “Seriously,” he continued, “a pilot’s job is demanding, particularly during bad weather, while fatigued, or when dealing with mechanical issues. In addition, they need good hands and feet and they must remain calm under pressure if an emergency arises.
“Good judgment is a necessity and knowing what the limits of the plane and the crew are, with respect to flying under adverse conditions, is imperative.”
While in Afghanistan, Loder was an Aircraft Commander of the CC130J and conducted the Tactical Airlift of troops and cargo among several different airports, as well as airdrops to more remote locations.
Canadians were amongst the first to deploy the Hercules aircraft to Afghanistan. Hercules airlift missions have prevented many deaths from suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
During airdrop missions, packed crates of food, water, fuel and other supplies are stored in the cargo hold of the Hercules and are parachuted to the troops on the ground below. Loder had to try to hit the target dead-on and at a precise moment.
“The airdrop missions we did were the most memorable,” he says. “It requires a high level of preparation, skill and training to do it accurately. It felt good to be supplying troops by air so that they could avoid having to transport it via convoy on the ground as so many people have been killed or injured by IEDs during convoy missions.”
But the airdrops by the Tactical Airlift Unit out of Kandahar Airfield are not without their risks. They must be done smoothly and quickly to avoid enemy fire.
“We changed our flight patterns on each trip to avoid being predictable,” he says. “We didn’t want the Taliban to know what we were going to do.”
During his deployment, Loder and his crew transported over 3,000 troops, as well as several passengers from other countries who were in the International Security Assistance Force and more than one million pounds of cargo, consisting of food, water, vehicles, ammunition and other supplies needed by allied forces.
“Luckily, I didn’t lose any friends while I was there, but I knew the pilots of the Chinook (helicopter) that crashed this past May as they were attempting to land on a dry river bed in Panjwaii district. It made us more aware of the dangers associated with flying in the desert environment,” he said. “I did have a friend, Scotty Vernelli, who was killed in Afghanistan a few years ago and that was difficult. It made me want to honour his sacrifice by continuing the mission to which he was committed.”
Shane interacted with the Afghan people on only a few occasions.
“The people there are very poor and oppressed and subjected to horrific injustices. We need to do what we can to help, to give security and freedom to people who can not defend themselves,” he says.
“The smell of the water treatment reservoir, which was appropriately nick-named the ‘Poo Pond’, was quite the experience. We could even smell it inside the airplane as we flew over the airfield.”
Unlike infantry soldiers who have little communication from family and friends, except through letters or word of mouth, Loder and his crew members kept in contact with home through e-mail and phone calls. Long-distance calling cards were provided so they could chat for 35 minutes a week. At Canada House in Kandahar Airfield, there was access to a small library and a few newspapers.
“The best thing was a Tim Hortons,” says Loder, “but the selection was small, just coffee, doughnuts and iced caps, which provided a refreshing break from the heat and a nice reminder of home.”
Shane had a Tim Hortons account that family and friends could top up whenever they wished; he shared the gifts with his crew.
“I was grateful for cards and photos from friends and family. It helped remind me of who we were fighting for,” he says. “I had something to look forward to. It made me feel that people back home appreciated what I was doing for them and that they supported me and our mission.
“I really enjoyed my experience, but I’m also very happy to be home with family. I value the freedom from oppression and violence that we enjoy in Canada. I look forward to using the experience I gained to help prepare our next crews who will be deployed in support of our missions abroad,” says Loder. “I want people to be aware of the sacrifices military families make every day, being separated from each other for long periods of time.
“We truly are thankful when fellow Canadians and our family and friends show their support. Words of encouragement and appreciation go a long way.”
This article first appeared in the November 10, 2011 issue of The Citizen