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Airmen in Baghdad keep convoys off the road

by Tech. Sgt. Russell Wicke
447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

5/29/2007 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN)  -- The first thing arriving and outgoing cargo aircrews are likely to see on the Baghdad flightline is the aerial port team doing push-ups behind their aircraft.

"The aircrews usually laugh when they open the back ramp and see us," said Capt. Andrew Stewart, the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron AP Flight commander. Doing 20 push-ups before and after every download is a policy set by Staff Sgt. Anthony Calogero, the 447th ELRS NCO in charge of ramp operations.

The Aerial Port processes all the cargo and passengers in and out of the entire Victory Base Complex. Approximately 60 Airmen move nearly 2,000 tons of cargo and more than 5,000 people every week. Their squadron commander, Maj. Travis Condon, said it's a precision operation because it has to be.

"I don't think (Sather Air Base) would be here if not for the Aerial Port Airmen," he said. "Moving cargo is (the base's) mission -- it's where the rubber meets the road."

The entire Victory Base Complex surrounding Baghdad International Airport is a melting pot of Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, civilians and coalition forces -- the model of a joint environment. It holds more than 50,000 combatants, not including civilians, and all enter through the narrow gates of Sather Air Base.

However, this isn't just any airport. The Aerial Port mission operates under numerous unique challenges, all of which exude hostility. The base is subject to mortar attacks, the flightline suffers extreme desert heat, and the aircraft compete for ramp space and take-off times.

More than 280 aircraft per week pass through Sather Air Base because the alternative route to VBC is too perilous; convoy.

"Without our port here, cargo and [people] would be trucking it in from Kuwait by convoy." said Senior Airman Jonathon Burns, 447th ELRS air transportation specialist. "We help keep those convoys off the road."

Convoys are one of the most dangerous activities in Iraq. Road-side bombs are the undisputed killer here -- and nearly all are designed to prey on convoys. Because of this, access by air is in high demand, and the Aerial Port crew here shoulders the yoke.

However, the Airmen in Aerial Port said they are proud to be of service, and they don't consider it anything they can't handle.

"Our people are eager and highly motivated," Major Condon said. "They know that in addition to Airmen, Soldiers and Marines depend on us, too."

Because of this, Captain Stewart said they run a tight operation -- and those push-ups before every cargo download serve as a reminder. "The job is demanding," Major Condon said. "The mission requirement is more demanding. We have fewer people here to do more work compared to our home station." But the commander said his people never lose sight of the overall picture; that their toil goes to the greater good of Iraq, and that's worth every pallet of cargo, with push-ups on top.

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