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Military

Aerial port hub keeps passengers, cargo rolling

by Senior Airman Erik Hofmeyer
379th Air Expeditionary Wing


3/14/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNEWS)  -- The Airman wipes the sweat from his brow. His radio crackles out a message that a shipment of blood is on its way for a critically injured servicemember in Iraq.

Tech. Sgt. Lee Fletcher sends out the word and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing's aerial port becomes a flurry of activity. There is not a moment to waste.

Airman 1st Class Robert Hendricks, an air transportation specialist from the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron, issues boarding passes for the medical personnel who will accompany the blood shipment.

Once the C-17 Globemaster III is loaded with the cargo and takes off for Iraq, Sergeant Fletcher goes back to preparing other cargo for more shipments. Airman Hendricks attends to the next flight's batch of passengers.

Forward deployed U.S. Armed Forces and coalition partners depend on every flight that takes off and lands here, which among other missions, serves as a major mobility hub transporting servicemembers and equipment in and out of the area of operation, or AOR.

The 8th EAMS, a 379th AEW tenant unit, links air mobility operations together, directly supporting the warfighters up range.

The squadron is divided into air freight, passenger service, air terminal operations center, fleet services and strategic maintenance.

The reception, staging and onward movement of transient passengers traveling into Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa requires significant logistical processes.

Last year alone, the squadron processed more than 257,000 people, just for travel in or out of the AOR last year, said Airman 1st Class Robert Hendricks, an 8th EAMS passenger service agent.

The 8th EAMS is busiest while managing spikes in air travel during rotation months, but the direct support to warfighters does not stop in between rotations.

"During the last calendar year, only 55 percent of our passenger travel was during the AOR rotation months," Airman Hendricks said. "We've got servicemembers moving in and out of the AOR everyday."

The 8th EAMS launches and recovers thousands of passengers and their bags everyday during rotation months. They guide passengers to and from airplanes, consolidate them into groups if continuing downrange, direct them to the right place for weapons, briefings and equipment plus they upload and offload aircraft sometimes ferrying more than 300 passengers.

Making sure that everybody is accounted for and tracking supplies and equipment through travels are critical aspects of the 8th EAMS mission while expediting the movement of passengers off commercial jets and moving them uprange via intratheater airlift, or vice versa.

"This is the first place people interact with and experience on the way into Iraq and Afghanistan, and last place they process through on their way home," said Lt. Col. Anthony Krawietz, 8th EAMS commander. "We have a key responsibility in setting the tone; helping people get to the war and helping people get home."

Aside from processing passengers and loading their personal cargo, the squadron also supports warfighters by transporting approximately 250,000 pounds of cargo each day.

"We just moved 200 pallets of equipment to build up field kitchen capability for the increased operations in Iraq," Colonel Krawietz said.

Within 48 hours of getting the call, the equipment was palletized and processed, and the squadron had it in the air on its way to Iraq, the colonel said.

This intratheater travel creates a lot of "wear and tear" on the heavily tasked C-17s.

So, squadron C-17 maintainers perform around-the-clock operations and are ready to fly out at a moment's notice to repair aircraft if maintenance issues occur uprange and the aircraft is stuck at an airfield.

"We're the only C-17 maintenance in the AOR," said Senior Airman Ryan Smith, 8th EAMS crew chief. "If something goes bad, we fly downrange, fix it and fly back.

The need for aircraft to be launched out of the 379th AEW on time, and to the right destinations brings a lot of attention to 8th EAMS operations.

"If there's ever a hitch in operations here, a lot of people get interested, very quickly," Colonel Krawietz said.



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