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Aerial porters save lives by moving air cargo in Iraq

by Master Sgt. Bryan Ripple
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


5/1/2007 - AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNEWS) -- Moving supplies, equipment and people from place to place in a convoy anywhere in Iraq is very risky business. Many hidden dangers such as improvised explosive devices, anti-Iraqi forces, and other such dangers can be on any road. 

Many lives that might have been lost in convoy attacks have been saved, due in part to the work of Airmen of the 438th Aerial Port Flight here.

Since the beginning of Air Expeditionary Force 5 and 6 in January, Airmen from the 438th APF have processed more than 32,000 passengers, 15,528 tons of cargo, and more than 2,600 aircraft keeping nearly 12,000 American servicemembers off the roads in convoys.

Using large vehicles like 60K and 25K Tonner loaders and forklifts, these Airmen have loading and unloading large aircraft down to a science -- and they do it very quickly to keep battlefield missions on time. 

"Convoy mitigation is a very large part of our mission," said Capt. Robert Golenberke, the 438th APF commander. "Our unit and one other at Al Taqadum supply all branches of our military in western Iraq through our aerial port operations."

"Previously, large convoys would have moved much of the equipment throughout the country, and roads around here can be very dangerous resulting in the deaths of Soldiers and Marines," the captain said. "Our guys are proud to work hard at what we do to help keep this from happening."

The captain deployed here from the 76th Aerial Port Squadron at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. He is one of eight reservists from Youngstown ARS deployed to Al Asad for aerial port operations.

When Soldiers and Marines identify equipment and vehicles that need to be moved, aerial port Airmen, called joint inspectors, are sent to various locations to inspect the cargo or vehicles and determine if it can be moved by aircraft.

"It's good to work directly with the other services," said Tech. Sgt. Dana Rea, deployed here from the 30th APS at Niagara Falls ARS, N.Y. "They understand the importance of moving equipment safely, because they need their people and their stuff to be moved on time and in a safe manner to get their mission accomplished."

The aerial porters inspect containers for hazardous items, weigh vehicles, measure them, find their center of balance and determine proper load configurations to move them, said Sergeant Rea, a native of North Tonawanda, N.Y. 

Deployed here from the 76th APS, Tech. Sgt. Brian Wilms said he equates what he's doing in Iraq with his civilian job as a city firefighter in Salem, Ohio.

"With all the heavy lift aircraft we process, we're keeping a lot of people off the roads and saving lives," said Sergeant Wilms, a ramp shift supervisor with the 438th APF. "With that in mind, you don't think about the long hours when you know you're keeping blood from being spilled on the ground. It's exactly why a firefighter doesn't mind long hours on duty -- we're there to save lives and protect property."

Working hard day and night to support OIF missions in the desert with nighttime blackout conditions hasn't dulled the professionalism or spirit of these Airmen, said Chief Master Sgt. Rex Neff, the 438th APF superintendent deployed from Youngstown ARS. "We've got people from 11 different units here working together, and their drive to succeed is unstoppable. We couldn't have planned a better operation."

With the goal of saving lives in mind, the 438th APF's Airmen press on day and night doing their part to support OIF.

(Capt. Ken Hall of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.)



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