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Airmen support Soldiers, Marines with up-armor kits

by Tech. Sgt. Mark Munsey
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/20/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Soldiers and Marines can thank a team of blue-suited warriors at this forward-deployed location for helping put new armor on vehicles they use to battle insurgents.

Airmen of the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron are on a 24-hour treadmill, racing to provide life-saving and force-protection equipment to customers they’ll never see.

Since July 18, the Airmen have been loading C-17 Globemaster IIIs full of more dent-resistant Humvees and pallet after pallet of up-armor kits for vehicles already in use in the theater, said Capt. Steve Nelson, the squadron’s operations officer.

“We’re a vital link in the war on terrorism,” Captain Nelson said. “The trigger pullers in the field need this equipment to thwart the capabilities of the enemy.”

With an already-limited availability, the squadron’s portion of the ramp has become more crowded than a department store’s parking lot on Christmas Eve.

“We’re staging up to seven aircraft on an area of the parking ramp that was originally designed for only three aircraft,” Captain Nelson said.

It is congestion born of necessity, said Army Lt. Col. John Tkach, of the U.S. Central Command’s distribution and deployment operations center sustainment cell.

A number of kits had become backlogged stateside, he said.

A decision was made to airlift the kits and up-armored Humvees. This most recent, on-going mission delivered 275 kits “up north” for installation.

The bottom line for the squadron’s Airmen -- who commonly refer to themselves as the “Mighty 8th” -- is as simple as it is far reaching, Colonel Tkach said.

“They’re saving Soldier’s lives,” he said.

Adding this key mission to the squadron’s daily itinerary -- including passenger and asset movement and airplane repair and reconstitution -- means everyone pitches in, including Staff Sgt. Naomi Groom, a passenger terminal representative.

After her duty day was long over, Sergeant Groom was still in the staging area July 19 adding personal-commitment fuel to the pallet-packaging frenzy.

“They need to get downrange,” she said.

If Sergeant Groom refers to the Marines and Soldiers in a more familiar manner, it is understandable. She has helped innumerable sister-service brethren who come through this Southwest Asia base’s passenger terminal for a four-day rest and recuperation visit.

“It’s a great feeling knowing we can get them out of the fight, even for a few days,” she said.

Even without the high-profile up-armor kit mission, the squadron’s Airmen have plenty of requirements to occupy their time, said Capt. Mike Lee, the squadron’s aerial port flight commander.

“We’ve (brought) more than 80,000 pounds of blood to wounded Soldiers on the frontline,” Captain Lee said. “In two-and-a-half months, more than 58,000 passengers and 24,825 short tons of cargo and ammunition have moved through the (squadron).

“That’s the entire populace of Dover, Del., and the weight of almost 137 C-5 (Galaxy aircraft),” he said.

Deftly handling the daily mission while simultaneously fulfilling the high-visibility up-armor project is another proverbial feather in the unit’s cap, according to their squadron commander.

“What has amazed me is the incredible mission focus and teamwork,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Engelke. “We were given 25 days to complete the up-armor kits based on manning and workload, but we’ll have it done in five days.

“Needless to say, I’m proud to be a part of the ‘Mighty 8th,’” he said.

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