M-ATV surge wraps up
More than a dozen Airmen stood on the edge of the flightline, anticipating with a watchful eye as the last C-17 Globemaster III lifted off the ground and soared away. A celebration and applause broke out. They threw water on each other and filled water balloons while high-fiving the patriots next to them. Some cried.
"I'm just so proud, that's all," said Master Sgt. Michele Gaul, the interim first sergeant, while wiping away the joyful tears. "That's why I'm crying!"
The last five of more than 2,500 mine-resistant ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles were on that C-17 bound for Afghanistan as the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Det. 1 wrapped up a surge operation. Their mission involved rapidly delivering the life-saving vehicles to match the call that sent more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.
The operations of 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Det. 1 will eventually transition into the hands of the Navy contingent there, while also helping the Air Force transition out.
Col. Keith Moncrief, the outgoing 379th AEW Det. 1 commander, said the surge mission was completed ahead of schedule.
"We're three months early," the colonel said. "We found out, through exhaustible research and a lot of math, that we could take five vehicles (on the C-17) versus four. That tied up fewer airplanes, and we became smarter and leaner without a lot of work."
Senior Airman Andrew Morton, a Det. 1 petroleum, oil and lubricants flight member was on the other end of the hose fueling the last C-17 that wrapped everything up.
"I'm used to filling up planes so they can fly around in circles for training," he said. "But coming out here and actually filling up planes with a purpose, with a mission that's going to help people -- help people get home to their families -- that's going to save people's lives is a great feeling."
Master Sgt. Steven Tornabene, a Det. 1 air transportation craftsman, knows the impact he and his team have had on the overall mission, but more significant for him is seeing the younger servicemembers "get it."
"To see their faces light up whenever they understand and realize that we're saving lives and we're pushing all these M-ATVs out and helping (servicemembers in Afghanistan and Iraq), it's a satisfying feeling," Sergeant Tornabene said. "From putting them on the plane and making sure the aircrew is safe, to delivering them downrange for the young sergeants, Soldiers, Marines or whoever gets in them to do their job and stay protected, I hope it makes (the Airmen) feel good, and they have pride in what they do here."
Senior Airman Kala Ceryak said she "gets it" too, as an aerial porter.
"For me, it's a true honor and I'm really excited to be a part of it," she said. "I like to keep in mind as well that it's not just me who had a hand in this, so it's good to know that I'm helping to cap off something that was already started, and just making the total Air Force in general come to a completed mission and success for us."
With the completion of this surge mission, Colonel Moncrief said people may be concerned that M-ATVs would stop being delivered. He said that's not the case.
"There are other, more enduring locations that'll be doing the same thing, answering the need," he said. "This was a surge location, and the requirement was fulfilled. Clearly, M-ATVs will continue to be attacked, so there will always be a need for M-ATVs. There was just such an immediate need with so many company level groups and they were waiting for this stuff. Right now, we're ahead of schedule and that's a great victory for everybody."
The victory sentiment rings the loudest, perhaps, for Buck Welcher, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who maintained the M-ATVs.
"To be able to contribute again to the war effort is a personally rewarding feeling for me," Mr. Welcher said. "Anytime you get to be a part of history it's a pretty good feeling. It's a good feeling know that we made such an impact downrange as far as safety for the warfighter(s) and for them to be able to efficiently do their job and keep them out of harm's way as much as possible. Kind of makes you feel like you've been taken off the shelf and you can still contribute a little bit."
Just as amazing as completing the mission ahead of schedule was the unity Det. 1 displayed between all Airmen, all ranks and all services.
"It's the mission," Colonel Moncrief said. "If you have to tie it into something, it's about saving lives. At least four riders' lives would be saved with each of these vehicles and (the Airmen) knew the history in Iraq. So this was something that everyone had in their heart and it went across specialties. It was a pretty magical thing."
Article by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Nichols, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs