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Airmen keep mission rolling

by Capt. Carlos Diaz
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/19/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Every day, dozens of C-130 Hercules aircraft at this forward-deployed location fly to Iraq with their bellies full of critical supplies and people to support the war on terrorism.

But the cargo does not just magically appear in the aircraft. Airmen of the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s air terminal operations center process, plan and load it on the transports.

In June, the Airmen moved 2,668 tons of cargo, 1,757 tons of baggage and airlifted 48,670 passengers. Cargo shipped north includes vehicle parts, water, food, clothing, steel plating and support equipment like excavators and trucks.

“We’re the guys who actually load the aircraft with passengers, cargo, pallets, rolling stock or vehicles,” said Master Sgt. Richard Winstead, noncommissioned officer in charge of the center. “We receive all the cargo. … This a very complex process from the time we receive the cargo to the time it actually gets loaded and sent out of here.”

The daily routine begins when supplies are trucked into the cargo terminal. Once it arrives, Airmen ensure cargo pallets are airworthy and include it in the in-transit visibility system that allows the center to track the location of pallets and to prioritize shipments.

“Sometimes we have opportune missions where aircraft go north with space for an extra pallet, and we’ll load the ones that need to go,” Sergeant Winstead said. “The other option -- if we get a backlog on our cargo -- is to contact air movement division and the reach-back cell for C-17 (Globemaster IIIs) at another location to task a plane to pick (up) the cargo and deliver it to its destination.”

The last steps for cargo transfer are completed when load planners identify the mission on which to send the cargo. The weight and balance of the aircraft based on the cargo is then computed. Once the calculations are done, the ramp section’s Airmen load the cargo on the aircraft.

“Depending on the mission and the aircraft configuration, it’s our job … to go out and pull out the highest priority cargo or the one that has been sitting in our yard for a long time,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Barber, a load planner. “We prepare the pallet for the mission and make sure that they fit in the aircraft and ‘load plan it’ to make sure it leaves from here in time.

“We try to get our backlogged cargo in (a) C-17 when we can so we can load more pallets than normal,” he said. “Usually, mail goes out first, and if we have a pallet that has been sitting here for more than 100 hours, we try to include them on the aircraft,” he said.

Cargo is usually shipped in 72 hours or less but sometimes takes longer because of inclement weather or by airfields restricted to nighttime operations only.

“My job here is to outprocess the cargo,” said Senior Airman Michael Turner, a day shift head cargo processor. “I get everything that gets here via pallets and boxes and get it ready for shipment. I ensure everything is done properly (and) that the pallets are built properly and they can actually fit in the aircraft.

“Bottom line, I get it ready for the load planners so they can make their plan for the aircraft,” he said. “One of the things that I like about my job is completing items in the backlog that have been here too long. Sometimes it’s tough to do, but we enjoy it when it gets done.”

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