AL ASAD, Iraq -- Among the thousands of Marines, soldiers and sailors here are a few airmen who could almost go unnoticed. Though their job is done behind the scenes, this tiny part of the combined services team makes a gigantic difference through their daily efforts.
Nineteen airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron (Operational Location A) take care of anything that has to do with loading and unloading aircraft.
Working all day, every day, the air cargo specialists move incoming and outgoing mail, ordnance, food, equipment, supplies, vehicles, and everything the units in western Iraq may need to accomplish their mission.
They also prepare plans to ensure the aircraft is properly loaded to maintain a balanced flight and conduct joint inspections with whoever owns the outgoing cargo to make certain it’s clean, labeled, packed correctly and safe to fly.
According to Senior Master Sgt. Alex M. Wallace, aerial port flight superintendent, when Marine Corps units began operating here the Air Force’s help was solicited so that wide-body aircraft such as C-5s, C-17s and commercial planes could start bringing equipment and personnel.
The Air Force’s Expeditionary Air Force Center sent 19 airmen to begin working here and at the beginning of this year assigned the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to task 19 other airmen to replace them.
The 19 airmen are divided into an officer-in-charge, a staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 15 transporters, and two mechanics who keep the material-handling equipment working. They are from the Air Force’s active and reserve forces and come from bases in Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, California, Germany, Virginia, Arkansas, and Missouri.
“We are all trained to do the same thing,” said Wallace. “Once we came together we sort of tweaked our way to do things, but we do it the way it needs to be done.”
Wallace said most of the airmen here have been stationed together before, gone through occupational school together or ran into each other at some point in the past.
“It’s said that practice makes perfect, but in our work the belief is ‘practice makes proficient,’” he said. “Our main focus is to give people their supplies when they need them—on time, every time, as long as the planes don’t brake.”
During a period of approximately three months, the air cargo specialists here loaded and unloaded 398 planes and moved 4,305 short tons of cargo. According to Wallace, some of the busiest units at other air bases deal with 25 short tons per month during peacetime.
“None of these guys are complaining about going home,” said Wallace, whose team has the second most deployed job field in the Air Force. “They’re here until the job is done.”
The airmen here receive support from several Army units, Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 (Reinforced), who they interact with on a regular basis.
“Being an Air Force unit on a Marine base we really don’t know the right buttons to push whenever we need something,” said Wallace. “We’re trying to learn the Marine lingo. People always say the Air Force has it easy, but it’s not always easy. There’s times when we need something and we don’t know where to go.
“If it wasn’t for the support of the units providing us with fuel, food and communications we couldn’t do what we do, but if it wasn’t for some of the things we do some of the units here would go through a really slow process loading and offloading wide-body planes. We have the equipment and the expertise.”
The airmen here consider working along Marine, Army and Navy units a valuable training tool that can further enhance their careers in the Air Force. Each one of them takes pride in supporting the mission of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) and taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It’s hard on some these guys’ families, but this is what we do,” said Wallace. “We signed the dotted line. Some of these individuals want to be here rather than back home. Back home loading and offloading wide-body aircraft is done as part of their training; here they are actually helping someone get through some things.”
That, according to Wallace, is what keeps them motivated day after day—the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment they get by knowing everyone is receiving the supplies they need.
“Because of the job that we do, downloading big planes and uploading small planes that fly into the other camps, we avoid sending convoys out,” he said. “Our job saves lives.”
- For more information about the airmen reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at email@example.com -