Airmen Focus on Their Work to Push Supplies 'Up North'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
"Up north" is Iraq, and the airmen working at the hot, dusty base here are dedicated to getting the essentials to troops fighting in Iraq. "These people are focused," said wing commander Col. Tim Hale . "They are proud of what they are doing and proud of the part they are playing (in the war on terror)."
Hale spoke to reporters following a USO show at the base hosted by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers is in the midst of a 10-day trip to assess troop morale. USO entertainers are accompanying the general as he thanks servicemembers and their families for their sacrifices.
The airmen at the base deploy here from bases around the world. They have not worked together as a team before they arrive in Kuwait, yet they perform like a well-oiled machine. "We obviously train to the same standards," said Tech. Sgt. Christina Bolle, an airfield manager with the unit. Bolle, normally based at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, said the sense of mission - to get supplies and personnel to Iraq - is the overriding concern.
Air Force C-130 transports fly from the base. The hot, dusty conditions cause maintenance problems for the aircraft, which requires maintainers to do their part in ensuring the supply flow remains intact.
"We try to fly at night, because the conditions are better," said Col. J.J. Wendling, the wing vice commander. "But that puts a huge burden on the maintenance people. During the day, if they don't wear gloves, they will burn their hands on their tools."
Chief Master Sgt. Martin Klukas, the command chief, said the troops here attack their jobs "with a ferocity you don't see in the states. The mission is first, and everyone knows it."
With the exception of a few senior leaders, the airmen deploy for 120 days. "It's short enough that we can manage expectations," Hale said. "It's also important that there is a support structure in place back home for the families. That is working, although we always look for ways to improve."
The airmen said the facilities here are good and morale, welfare and recreation opportunities help the time pass. Staff Sgt. Darcy Meehan, a computer systems specialist, said most airmen rely on the Internet to stay connected. "Although the snail mail is pretty good too," she said.
Bolle said the airmen appreciate the notes and care packages that American send to the airmen. "We have gotten some very cute cards from kindergartners and mail addressed to anyone," she said. "It makes your day to know you aren't forgotten."
The airmen at the base also work to get wounded servicemembers where they need to go. "It has been a rewarding experience to work with the soldiers and Marines," said Senior Airman Jillian Tyler, a medical technician. "We work constantly to improve the process and ease their pain."
The airmen work with Japanese and Korean allies and other nations at the base. "We get along very well," said Maj. Ryan D'Andrea, a C-130 pilot. "Part of that is because we have been working with (the Japanese and Koreans) so long. Part of that is because they have the sense of mission as well."
The airmen said they believe Americans understand what they are doing and why. "This is probably the most challenging assignment I will have in my Air Force career," said Maj. Philip Goff, an engineer with the wing. "And I know it is the most worthwhile. We all of us try to find better ways of doing the mission, because people in Iraq are depending on us."
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