Project Raft

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Project Raft
Location: Mali
Date: May 1985
Emergency: The absence of a ferry to cross the Niger River at Gao prevented truck deliveries of food to famine victims in Mali.
Organizations: Twenty-first Air Force, 322d Airlift Division, 435th Tactical Airlift Wing, and 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron
Airlifted: One M4T6 pontoon bridge and a 15-man detachment from the 565th Engineering Battalion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Aircraft Used: C–141 (three) and C–130 (two)

After Vice President Bush visited drought-stricken Mali with food supplies in March, famine continued to afflict the country. In May, a ferry used to carry food to Gao on the Niger River required maintenance and was out of operation for several months. The Malian government requested assistance from the United States, and the State Department, working with its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, asked USEUCOM to send Army engineers and pontoon bridge components to help construct a raft ferry.

The U.S. European Command organized Project Raft, a five-month operation to transport food across the Niger River to famine victims in eastern Mali. The Military Airlift Command provided airlift, with the 322d Airlift Division managing the operation.

In late May, three Twenty-first Air Force C–141s transported pontoon bridge parts and a 15-man detachment from the 565th Engineering Battalion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, to Bamako, capital of Mali. Some bridge parts weighed more than 7.5 tons each. Two 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron C–130s from the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing shuttled the freight on nine flights from Bamako to Gao. The engineers constructed an M4T6 pontoon bridge with five floats and used it for the next five months to ferry food trucks across the Niger River at Gao.

In November, MAC conducted a reverse airlift to return engineers and bridge components to West Germany. The Pentagon awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal to Army and Air Force personnel participating in Project Raft.

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