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New airframe, squadron on Kandahar Airfield

Senior Airman Theophilus Okrah, 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron ramp services member, loads cargo into a C-27 at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2011. The C-27s belong to the 702 Air Expeditionary Squadron.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook)

Senior Airman Theophilus Okrah loads cargo into a C-27J Spartan at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2011. The C-27s belong to the 702nd Air Expeditionary Squadron. Airman Okrah is with the 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Corey Hook)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Members of the 451st Expeditionary Operations Group welcomed their newest unit, the 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, here at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, recently.

The 702 EAS is a tactical transport squadron comprising Army and Air Force Guard members flying C-27J Spartans to provide support to forward operating bases. Their first combat mission took place early Aug. 4.

"This unit has made huge strides to get trained while away from family, and heading out for this deployment shortly after," said Lt. Col. Robert Schuett, who will assume command of the squadron Aug. 9. "I'm very proud of the work they've done to make all this possible."

The 702nd mission is a joint venture between Air Force and Army, with both Army and Air Force crews flying missions together.

"The primary mission is to support the coalition forces on the ground," said Michael Kemple, 451st Maintenance Group joint aircraft cargo maintenance manager. "The missions come from the Army, and will be flown by both Air Force and Army pilots and Air Force and Army loadmasters."

The C-27, originally purchased by the Army to replace the C-23 Sherpa in 2008, was aligned under Air Force's Air Mobility Command in 2010.

"This aircraft is somewhere between the C-23 Sherpa and the C-130 Hercules. It is small enough for FOBs with short runways, but has a longer flying capability to reach the farther-away FOBs," Kemple said.

U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Fixico, a 702 EAS loadmaster, has been with the program since November of 2009, and has enjoyed every minute of it.

"I was a loadmaster on the C-23 Sherpa, but this has been a really great experience" he said. "Working with the Air Force guys was different at first. We went through the training together and we all love working together now. It helps having each other there to translate acronyms and things like that. It has been a great two years."

During a training session, Airmen and Soldiers, includin Fixico, worked together practicing loading cargo into the C-27.

"I was a little bit nervous with the first load, everyone watching to see how we do with this new cargo formation," said Senior Airman Theophilus Okrah, with the 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron ramp services.

The new addition will be a transparent one for ramp services, who load all types of airframes here at Kandahar.

"It's an exciting ramp, so many different aircraft; we rely on the different services' knowledge and our ability to be flexible," Okrah said.

Okrah has enjoyed his time working with the Army, and said there already is a great working relationship.

"We work with the Army ramp guys a lot already, we help each other out on the ramp and this will be no different." Okrah said.

A maintenance team arrived early to prepare for the incoming unit, with help from the Army.

"The Army has been instrumental in establishing the infrastructure for this new squadron," said Col. Lindsey Whitehead, the 702 EAS Liaison Officer to the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"This really is an entirely joint mission, and done with entirely Guard crews, who are ecstatic over this opportunity," he said.

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