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Providing critical support to the AOR

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar (AFNS) -- A team of nearly 40 Airmen at Al Udeid Air Base loads and off-loads thousands of pounds of cargo into aircraft almost daily.

The Airmen assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s Ramp Services section are responsible for loading and unloading a wide variety of cargo including equipment, medical supplies, munitions and blood onto aircraft needed at bases across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

In February, the team loaded more than 3,500 tons of cargo onto U.S. aircraft, including more than 1,000 tons of munitions valued at approximately $81 million.

Senior Airman Christian Molenhoff, an 8th EAMS aerial port expediter from Indianapolis, explained the loading process.

“When we get to the plane, we conduct exterior and interior inspections looking for anything that may prevent us from loading or unloading the aircraft,” Molenhoff said. “We make sure the rails are operating properly and we review the load plan to ensure we don’t need to change anything.”

Molenhoff said after the inspection, the aircraft is prepped for loading depending on the cargo weight. Distribution of the weight and not overloading the aircraft are important, because they don’t want the aircraft to tip during takeoff or while in flight.

He said safety is a primary concern.

“Everything we do on the ground makes sure the aircraft operates safely. We kind of have lives in our hands when we load aircraft, because if anything slips out of place or a chain breaks and the cargo shifts that could alter the safety of flight,” he said. “Safety is our number one priority.”

Another important priority is timeliness, according to Staff Sgt. Justin Bradford, an 8th EAMS load team chief from Loundon, Tennessee.

“We are always under a deadline and meeting those deadlines can be quite a challenge, especially when we have to upload or download multiple planes,” Bradford said. “We do our best to ensure each aircraft is ready to go within an hour of takeoff.”

Bradford said there have been times when his unit has had to load and offload several aircraft all within a few hours and this included some aircraft that required a quick turn.

Quick turn implies an aircraft lands, the cargo is quickly off-loaded and the aircraft is loaded with new cargo, so it can depart within approximately 90 minutes.

“We are here to get the mission done, to get cargo from one location to another and that’s very rewarding,” Bradford said. “Knowing we did our job means a lot to me, to know we’re out here loading and unloading cargo, supporting (aeromedical evacuation) missions … we send everything from munitions to medical supplies to help our fellow service members.

“Everything that’s in our load plans is being loaded and unloaded for a purpose,” Bradford continued. “To know I’m helping people in need is very rewarding.”

Master Sgt. Raymond Graves, the 8th EAMS NCO in charge of ramp services from Clover, South Carolina, said he’s proud of his Airmen.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day in ramp services,” Graves said. “We may support 18 missions today and 30 tomorrow, every day is different and my Airmen come together to get the mission done without complaint.”