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Airmen sustain increased airlift flow to Afghanistan

by Roger Drinnon
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

4/1/2010 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Airmen at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan increased airfield operations recently in direct support of Marines during the U.S. troop increase called for by President Barack Obama to target the insurgency and secure key population centers.

U.S. Transportation Command officials here requested 615th Contingency Response Element Airmen accelerate the movement of troops and equipment needed by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force commander.

With only two days' notice, the 49-member 615th CRE deployed in February from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and upon arrival at Camp Bastion immediately worked to increase airfield airlift flow by 30 percent while reducing C-17 Globemaster III ground time by 50 percent.

Lately, the cargo delivered to Camp Bastion has included mine-resistant, ambush-protected all terrain vehicles, or M-ATVs, which protect coalition forces from improvised explosive devices and other attacks by insurgents. As of mid-February, more than 870 M-ATVs have been airlifted via U.S. military and commercially-contracted aircraft to Afghanistan and about 500 since January.

"The 615th CRE brings a very robust capability to the fight while logistically supporting our joint and coalition brothers and sisters," said Maj. Sang Kim, the 615th CRE commander. "We are truly 'all in' and will do whatever it takes to bring stability to the southern region of Afghanistan."

He said communication between the Marines and 615th CRE members was vital to ensuring overall mission success.

"The CRE provided me an avenue to voice any issues and to ensure aircrews received the best possible air traffic controller services," said Marine Staff Sgt. Ricardas McQueen, an air traffic control tower liaison at Camp Bastion.

Major Kim said his team's close coordination with the Marines accelerated the delivery of critical troops, supplies and armored vehicles, despite limited cargo space at Camp Bastion.

"Our job was to boost the velocity and throughput of cargo and personnel into this location," Major Kim said. "We did this first by maximizing the use of existing aircraft ramp space, then by augmenting the existing airfield personnel to help minimize the time aircraft -- mostly C-17s and some contracted DC-8 and IL-76 aircraft -- spend on the ground. This allows more aircraft arrivals."

Major Kim said the 615th CRE's aerial porters would pre-position on the ramp to rapidly offload cargo from arriving aircraft, then would quickly load the cargo onto material handling vehicles and rush the critical supplies to the cargo yard at the airfield for pick-up by the Marines.

"As my first real-world deployment, you see how the CRE is close-knit," said Airman 1st Class Christopher LeQuire, a 615th CRE aerial porter. "Showcasing our capabilities and seeing the immediate impact of our operations gives you a sense of pride."

Airman LeQuire said the teamwork inherent in the 615th CRE not only instills a sense of prestige but also instills a sense of duty for being a member of one of the Air Force's premier expeditionary units.

The 615th CRE staff made other improvements to the base. The team's civil engineers laid down an aluminum helicopter landing pad that reduces dust and debris during aeromedical evacuations of wounded service members who transit Camp Bastion aboard Air Force helicopters.

Team members also provide more airfield security. The 615th CRE members not only brought additional security forces to Bastion, but also intelligence officers who continuously evaluate potential enemy threats and up-channel threat assessments to higher headquarters.

The 615th CRE is composed of specialists spanning the gamut of airfield operations, including command and control, airfield management, aerial porters, aircraft and vehicle maintenance, airfield security, communications systems, loadmasters, intelligence officers, and flightline ramp coordinators. The 615th CRE Airmen deployed as a team specifically tailored to boost operations at Camp Bastion based on needs identified in a joint assessment team report compiled last fall.

The joint assessment team included 621st CRW airlift planners, airfield operations specialists, civil engineers, security forces, and aerial porters deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., as well as some U.S. Air Forces Central logistics specialists. The joint assessment team identified the personnel and resources needed to project additional airpower in support of ground troops, including thousands of Marines who re-supply at Camp Bastion. The joint assessment team report gave the 615th CRE Airmen an advance glimpse of the airfield.

Prior to the 615th CRE Airmen's arrival, airlift operations were being conducted by the Royal Air Force's 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing, assisted by U.S. Air Force aerial porters and the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The RAF's 903rd EAW remains the senior airfield authority responsible for all airfield operations at Camp Bastion.

"The close coordination between the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force CRE has been exceptional, which has safely increased operations while enhancing visibility on aircraft and airfield issues," said RAF Squadron Leader Danny Endruweit, the 903rd EAW squadron leader of operations.

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