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Ramstein supports OEF in Kyrgyz Republic



By 1st Lt. Phillip Ulmer 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (USAFENS) - The 86th Contingency Response Group arrived nearly a year ago, as the first American unit sent in to secure and establish an air base in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Today, about 137 airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, are deployed to what is now the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing at Ganci Air Base, part of a 2,000-strong coalition force supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism.

The coalition force here is comprised of service members from Denmark, the Republic of South Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and the United States. Based near the capital city of Bishkek, just 120 miles east of the Chinese border, the 376th AEW provides combat air support and airlift for forces in Afghanistan as well as the aerial refueling of coalition aircraft.

Ramstein airmen have played a critical role in the success of the wing's mission since day one, according to the unit's current commander, Brig. Gen. Jared Kennish.

"From the beginning, Ramstein's airmen helped set the standard of dedication, sacrifice and professionalism that's required to carry out our mission here," said Kennish.

"I'm proud to say, I see that same dedication and commitment in every airman here," he added.

The mission is demanding, and the extreme winter weather conditions complicate it, but the airmen here are taking care of priorities as they pop up. Number one on that list is ensuring everyone has a warm tent to sleep in.

"Our guys are working around the clock to keep the tent heaters working," said Tech. Sgt. James Cupp, superintendent of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, at the 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

HVAC people are extremely popular right now.

As the temperature dips, the heating fuel "gels" and clogs the lines, causing the heaters to quit working in the middle of the night, said Cupp. Nearly every heater in tent city quit working Dec. 4, when temperatures dropped to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Even though parts are hard to come by, we're fixing the heaters as fast as we can," he said.

While the bulk of the members who deployed here from Ramstein are civil engineers, there are also people from contracting, communications, logistics readiness, mission support and services here. They all work together as a team to take care of each other and the mission.

We're looking after the troops to make sure everything is taken care of for them, said Chief Master Sgt. Levon McDowell, chief of the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Distribution Flight. That way they can focus on the mission.

The mission is challenging and the conditions are rough, but those who are here are embracing the odds with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

"I've only been working here in the dinning facility two weeks, but I like it already," said Airman 1st Class Alex Hart, a 376th Expeditionary Services Squadron specialist who normally works at the fitness center.

"When I was in high school I never thought I'd be doing anything like this," said Hart, a native of Franklin Furnace, Ohio, who is on his first deployment. "I'm helping to keep people fed, I'm meeting new people and I'm having a great time half-way around the world."

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