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Spangdahlem's new airlift mission has room for expansion

by Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

8/17/2005 - SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany  -- The 726th Airlift Support Squadron has not finished moving here from Rhein-Main Air Base, but its new home might have already earned it a bigger airlift mission.

On Oct. 1, the squadron starts operations from its state-of-the art facility at this longtime fighter base in Germany’s Eifel region. It will have a large parking ramp equipped with a high-tech refueling system. Together, they give the unit a greater capability to handle heavy airlift aircraft.

“We’re probably going to need to increase our operation here to better utilize that capability,” said Lt. Col. Jim Kirk, the squadron’s operations officer, and soon-to-be commander. “So I expect our mission will expand.”

The Rhein-Main Transition Program, a 10-year effort to replicate Rhein-Main’s capabilities here and at Ramstein Air Base, estimated this base would get about 35 percent of the airlift missions to Europe. But the program could not have taken into consideration the changes in Air Force airlift since Sept. 11, 2001, Colonel Kirk said.

“Back then, we were accustomed to a smaller workload,” he said.

That changed after the attacks. Today, Air Mobility Command aircrews work around the clock sustaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. At Spangdahlem, about 130 people -- 87 coming from Rhein-Main -- will run the unit, the colonel said.

The unit’s new home is equipped to handle a bigger workload. The wider ramp can hold 11 heavy cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III. A hot cargo pad, where aircraft transporting munitions will park, can handle two more aircraft.

“And with some creative parking, wingtip walkers and meeting all safety issues, we can park another six C-17s here,” said Pete Neukom, 52nd Fighter Wing’s Rhein-Main Transition Program officer.

Mr. Neukom said the base’s increased fuel storage capacity could also drum up more business for the airlift support squadron. The base has four new 1.25-million gallon fuel storage tanks. With the tanks the base already has, it will increase its fuel storage capacity to about 9 million gallons. Plus, with upgrades made to the NATO fuel pipeline entering the base, the base will be able to siphon a million gallons a day from the pipeline -- a half million more than before.

And if the mission calls for it, Mr. Neukom said, “AMC can base a tanker task force at Spangdahlem. That’s not a problem -- we have the parking and the fuel.”

But before any mission upgrades can take place, the squadron must first set up shop, stand up operations and integrate into what is still a very traditional fighter community.

The 52nd FW vice commander, Col. Scott West, said the transition is going great. And he said the move has created a greater awareness of the mobility mission among base members.

“I think our Airmen get it -- we’re not just about fighters and air control squadrons anymore,” Colonel West said. “We’re also about airlift, getting things to and from the theater.

“We’re ready to take on the new mission,” he added.

The colonel, who said he grew up in a “fighter stovepipe,” said there is “a much greater respect at the base for the intensity of operations that goes on in AMC. It’s operational all the time.”

Part of that operation is maintaining airlift aircraft. Early indications show the C-17s will fly into Spangdahlem and the heavier C-5s into Ramstein, Mr. Neukom said. Ramstein will handle most of the en route maintenance for the cargo planes.

“(Spangdahlem) will be a throughput base -- a full-service stop,” he said. “The planes will arrive, do an overnighter, refuel, change crews and depart the next day.”

Colonel Kirk said his squadron will have its full compliment of people when it stands up. That will happen the same day Rhein-Main “turns the switch” off. But if the mission increases, the number of people will also have to increase.

“Our people will be busy,” the colonel said. “But it’s nothing we won’t be able to handle.”

There will be no barriers between the fighter wing and air support squadron, Colonel West said.

“It’s all one effort. One fight,” he said.

Colonel Kirk agrees and believes the transition, while it will be tough, will be seamless. But after having come from Rhein-Main, a base known for decades as the “Gateway to Europe,” is a bit daunting. He knows topping Rhein-Main’s impressive airlift record will be a tough act to follow.

But the colonel is optimistic. He said new facilities here give the base some unique airlift capabilities of its own. That could allow the base to transition and become a gateway of its own.

He said the new airlift base could become the “Gateway to Freedom.”

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