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Airmen, soldiers, C-5s do heavy lifting at BAF

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Some families struggle to effectively pack a vehicle for a vacation. Others might find it difficult to fit all their groceries into the trunk. At Bagram Air Field, a team comprised of three completely separate units from two different branches of the U.S. military managed to transport nearly 40 Army helicopters and cargo from Afghanistan to Spain in about 25 days.

While it is common for military movement operations to go smoothly and on schedule, once in a while an exceptionally talented team greatly exceeds expectations and raises the standard. Bagram’s 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron team and C-5 crews from the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing did just that working with U.S. Army soldiers to airlift several AH-64 Apaches from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade while delivering aircraft and equipment for their replacements, the 101st CAB.

Lt. Col. Thomas Poremski, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing deputy director of plans, oversaw the entire coordination and execution process. He said he was completely impressed with the people who made the movement happen, and he knows he’s not alone.

“This is a fairly large operation in complexity, and they went about it very smartly. Being a Guard unit, they know that aircraft very well. They were able to select personnel based on the ‘personality’ of the aircraft, tailoring their maintenance package and spares based on the type of aircraft they had, and its known quirks,” said Poremski.

“Anytime there is a large unit swap-out you want to get new assets in place as soon as possible. The way they set this up created a situation that would take the minimal time even with unforeseen maintenance or cargo problems and getting aircraft in and back out.”

Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Anderson, superintendent of aerial port operations, echoed Poremski’s confidence and praise of their team. He coordinate with each work center and made sure they had supplies and personnel needed to succeed.

“What we have here is logistics at its finest. [The] 82nd CAB leaving and 101st replacing them. But this is so streamlined that we can continue bringing the fight to the enemy with no interruption. We all understand we’re here to work collectively to make the mission happen,” said Anderson.

Each flight in this transition mission included a nine-hour flight to or from Spain, and four to five hours on the ground. With a schedule that tight, there’s not a lot of time for maintenance checks.

A dedicated C-5 crew from the 167th was set in place at Bagram. Master Sgt. Ryan Day, a C-5 loadmaster from the Martinsburg, W.Va., 167th AW, has been doing his job for 10 years, but has never been part of a major transition before. He credited all-around teamwork and professionals in the maintenance team for the success of this mission.

“This maintenance team is great. Without them I don’t think we’d be making our timeline. We’re all working as a team and getting it done as quickly and safely as we can. We’ve always been the kind of unit that goes the extra mile. If you give us a deadline we’re going to make it or try to beat it. But to keep things moving takes a good bit of coordination. I’ve never been in an airport this busy before. Every one of these guys are really awesome,” said Day.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Orozco, a 455th load planner from Radcliffe, Ky., said it was more than pride and timelines at stake. Air Mobility Command put millions of dollars on the line with this transition.

“AMC’s top expense is fuel. Each aircraft flying outside of the optimal fuel balance window could mean as much as $500 in fuel costs. That’s $2.4 million quarterly. Yearly, that equals 166 Airmen’s salary,” said Orozco

Orozco’s job may not be the most glamorous at Bagram, but it makes a big difference in the big picture. Yet he spends just an hour or two planning each aircraft load. With this mission, he’s starting to appreciate what he does.

“When I look at all the tonnage and cargo that we process, and to think that we’re responsible for a lot of that, it’s pretty amazing. These supplies are getting to the warfighters. It’s really rewarding to know when you’re part of that.”

All of the planning and measurements for special equipment and cargo ends up with the 455th ELRS Joint Inspectors. Staff Sgt. Ezra Whiteside, assigned to special handling, has to make sure cargo is airworthy and prepared within regulations of military airlift. If he doesn’t do his job, not only will there be an imbalance for load planner, but a miscalculation could mean the airframe might break from the weight. Load planners are his quality assurance check, and the loadmaster has the final say on what goes onto aircraft.

As stressful as his job could be in situations like the transition mission, Whiteside wouldn’t have it any other way. He says he enjoys the camaraderie from meeting new teams.

“I love this job. It’s fun working with the different nations and different branches of our military. Everybody operates differently. And learning from them and seeing how they react to challenges is interesting. It takes a lot of communication, experience and forethought. There’s not a lot of guesswork here. It’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing,” said Whiteside.

He noted that since June, his team has moved 6 million pounds of cargo. Yet he hasn’t reflected on the huge impact this team has had on the overall operation.

“I feel like just a small part of it. I recently went home at night and thought about what we’ve done, and I’m taken aback. I probably won’t really think about it really until I go home. I feel like I came out here and actually accomplished something. Here I feel more actively engaged, and like I’m doing something that’s a real part of the big picture. It’s been more rewarding than any other deployment that I’ve had.”

According to Poremski, AMC agrees that this special mission has been highly rewarding and highly successful for everyone - even future missions for the C-5.

“These are very tight-knit units, especially the Guard unit. This experience with Martinsburg and the C-5 has far exceeded everybody’s expectations as far as how smoothly it would go. They understood how important this was to Air Mobility Command to make certain it came off well. They turned what was forecast to be as much as a 45-day movement and compressed it well under 30 days. That is an amazing feat.

This kind of success might mean some renewed faith in the C-5 coming into the combat zone, pick up cargo that just cannot be moved by any other aircraft in our inventory, and effectively work it back out of the system. This is a great model for how we could bring new stuff in while taking out assets being replaced in a very time-efficient manner,” said Poremski.

Similar missions have not been announced, but the significant success of this team’s efforts once again proved the ingenuity and effectiveness of the men and women of Team Bagram.

Article by Tech. Sgt. Shawn McCowan, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing