A-staff helps sustain joint humanitarian effort
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFPN) -- Airman 1st Class Joseph Solis helps a U.N. worker load tents. Airman Solis is an air transportation specialist with the 818th Contingency Response Group and 24th Air Expeditionary Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erick Saks)
by 1st Lt. Erick Saks
818th Contingency Response Group Public Affairs
11/17/2005 - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFPN) -- The 818th Contingency Response Group and 24th Air Expeditionary Group continue handling hundreds of thousands of pounds of cargo each day as part of the continuing Pakistani earthquake recovery effort.
Col. Richard Walberg, who commands both groups, said while much of the "visible work" goes on in the cargo yard. The activity there keeps the unit on target.
"This is the first time in the history of the CRG or the [tanker airlift control element] that we have been chopped to a command outside of Air Mobility Command," Colonel Walberg said.
The units are comprised primarily of members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing and 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
Together with members from the other services, the Airmen from various specialties have helped moved more than 4,000 tons of humanitarian relief into Pakistan, operations officer Capt. Christopher Simmons said.
To lead the diverse unit in the joint environment, Colonel Walberg is using the A-staff structure, rather than the Air Force's traditional squadron structure. Group leaders are responsible for all aspects of the unit's operations, from personnel and communications to force protection and planning.
"We're using an A-staff here to help relate to our sister service counterparts," the colonel said. "In the joint environment, it's easier to refer someone to my 'A3' rather than my operations squadron commander."
Air transportation specialists -- aerial porters -- make up the bulk of the unit. These are the professional cargo movers who are traditionally part of a contingency response group, said Tech. Sgt. Michael Felton, an air transportation specialist.
"[Air transportation specialists] download planes, inventorying cargo and get cargo on the trucks," Sergeant Felton said. "We only have about 11 people on each 12-hour shift, so coordination is a very important part of what we do"
Ramp controllers, aircraft maintenance and aerospace ground equipment troops make up most of the rest of the groups. Controllers work with the aircrews and Indian immigration officials to make sure paperwork is properly coordinated.
But the job doesn't stop there, ramp controller Master Sgt. Michael Roe said.
"Whatever the aircrew needs, I do," Sergeant Roe said. "You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Whether you're working immigration or helping to get fuel, you have to be prepared for anything."
Aircraft maintainers not only fix broken aircraft, but also help in other areas of airfield operations, said Staff Sgt. Richard Bowen, an aircraft maintainer.
"We also assist in the loading and configuration of the aircraft," he said.
Aerospace ground equipment specialists are generally the first on the ground when the groups goes on such a mission, said Staff Sgt. Mike Taylor, an AGE specialist.
"We're very involved with the initial camp setup," said Sergeant Taylor. "We establish the camp layout [and] set up the environmental control units and generators. They send us because we can do it all."
New to the group are special tactics personnel -- pararescuemen, or PJs, and combat controllers.
PJs help with search and rescue and disaster relief, combat rescue officer 1st Lt. Troy said.
"PJs offer a full-spectrum pararescue capability, which includes on-scene immediate evaluation and emergency medical treatment. And we have the ability to gain access to isolated personnel," Lieutenant Arce said.
In the group’s fist 11 days, PJs treated more than 100 patients in isolated villages."
As part of the humanitarian mission, the U.S. military is airdropping relief supplies into remote areas. Combat controllers coordinate the drops.
The groups also have several one- to two-person specialties, which are critical to the mission, Colonel Walberg said. Material handling equipment maintenance specialists fall into that group.
"My role is to be able to fix anything that moves cargo," Staff Sgt. Barry Pope said, a material handling equipment maintenance specialist. "This primarily includes the forklifts and the Halverson loader. But I've been asked to work on everything from water heaters to TVs."
There are more group members whose work, though not as visible, is just as important to keep the humanitarian effort rolling, Captain Simmons said.
"I think they all have a lot to offer,” he said. “And they are a big part of why we've been so successful out here."
(Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)