Stephen Rothenbuhler from the New South Wales Central Coast spends his working days with his head in the clouds above Afghanistan.
Flight Lieutenant Rothenbuhler, 31, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules pilot, is deployed on Operation Slipper to maintain the air bridge between Al Minhad Air Base and about 400 Australian personnel in Kabul and Kandahar.
He admits there is not much surf and sand compared with his home town of Forresters Beach, but the former Lisarow High School Student is proud to deploy to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) for a third time.
“We have two Hercules aircraft here in the MEAO and we regularly transport passengers and cargo both into Afghanistan and in between key bases in the landlocked nation as required,” he said.
“Back home I am based at Richmond, in western Sydney. Being a C-130J pilot, we support operations and exercises worldwide as well as training for specific roles like air drops and formations.
“This is my first deployment as a captain on the Hercules, which is very special to me. I had done only one flight as captain on the aircraft before being deployed to the MEAO.
“I will cherish the entire deployment for things as simple as my core role and being responsible for the safety and the efficiency of the crew, passengers, aircraft, mission and professional development of junior crew members.”
The son of Helen and Karl Rothenbuhler of Forresters Beach, and a former Ourimbah resident, Stephen has been busy since joining 37 Squadron. He was involved in an operation in 2009 to search for a PNG aircraft that crashed en route to Kokoda, and has taken part in multi-national exercises Precision Red (Townsville), Rajawali (Indonesia), Red Flag Alaska (USA) and Kiwi Flag (New Zealand).
The husband of Monica Rothenbuhler, father of Toby (1), and former Lake Munmorah High School Mathematics teacher studied a Bachelor of Aviation Science at Newcastle University before he took the leap to RAAF Pilots course in 2007.
As a former member of the Ourimbah Rugby Club and Wamberal Surf Lifesaving Club, Flight Lieutenant Rothenbuhler admits to missing the outdoors lifestyle at home.
“My fondest memories of home are rowing surfboats with my mates, playing rugby with and against mates and going to the beach – pretty much anything outdoors and active with my friends,” he said.
“At the moment the things I really miss are my wife and son, spending time with family and friends, surfing, cracking a cold beer and sitting back to watch some footy.
“A specific highlight has been the camaraderie between not only the C-130 detachment but all the support agencies involved in the execution of the mission.”
The Hercules fleet has spent more than 11 years supporting personnel in the MEAO and is a key part of the Air Force fleet, providing medium to long-range transport with an excellent short runway capability.
It is able to perform tactical or strategic transport duties, troop transport, special forces insertion, parachuting (both static-line and free-fall), airdrop of stores and equipment, including four-wheel drives, inflatable boats and artillery pieces.
The aircraft is also often used for search and rescue operations, including airdrop of Air-Sea Rescue Kits, disaster relief and medical evacuations, whether as a result of military action (Timor, 1999), terrorist bombings (Bali, 2002 and 2005) or natural disasters (Boxing Day 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami).