Turkey-based Airmen saving troops' lives in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Michael Tolzmann
  • Air Force Print News
Hundreds of miles away from the war zone, the efforts of Airmen here are helping keep Iraq-based troops off dangerous convoy routes that are plagued with roadside bombs and sniper attacks.

By flying critical supplies via C-17 Globemaster III from this eastern Turkey air base directly to servicemembers at remote locations in Iraq, more than 3,300 convoy truck missions are taken off the Iraqi roads each month, said Capt. James Burnham, aerial port operations officer with the 728th Air Mobility Squadron here.

The design of the C-17 allows it to land at small, austere airfields, and it has defensive measures against missile attacks.

During around-the-clock operations at the Cargo Hub here, supplies such as essential add-on humvee equipment or repair parts and medical supplies are examples of critically needed items that are loaded onto C-17s destined for Iraq, said 2nd Lt. Ryan Randall, officer in charge at the Air Terminal Operations Center.

Close to 60 percent of all air cargo destined for Iraq passes through Incirlik Air Base, said Col. Tip Stinnette, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing. He said three reasons influence the mission being operated here -- location, location, location.

"Incirlik is a strategic center of gravity for the U.S. and Turkey in this region," Colonel Stinnette said . "Here at Incirlik, I can pump that airplane and aircrew into Iraq twice in a day. By doing so, we can rededicate airplanes and aircrews to other missions. This comes down to greater efficiency and greater allocation of recourses. You can do a strategic hub just about anywhere, in fact, previously it was done out of Ramstein. But it takes a day for a plane to cycle from Ramstein into Iraq and back," he said.

The Cargo Hub here facilitates what has been coined a "hub and spoke" operation. Incirlik is considered the hub, or center of a wheel, and the many routes flown outward from this center point form the spokes of this imaginary wheel.

"From a strategic perspective, we want to get cargo from the fort to the foxhole quickly. If cargo can be moved on a ship, that's better. You can put more things on a ship, and it's less expensive to move it. But there are some things that just have to get there now, tonight, kind of like the Fedex thing, when it positively has to get there," Colonel Stinnette said .

Colonel Stinnette said the fort to foxhole process begins when cargo is loaded onto contracted 747 airplanes at locations on the U.S. East coast and flown to Incirlik. These jumbo jets can carry more than 40 pallets of cargo. Airmen here off-load the 747s and reload the cargo on C-17s destined for Iraq. Some commercial aircraft fly directly into Iraq, where runways and facilities are capable of receiving the jumbo 747.

"They can't service a lot of the airfields we service. And we want to get the cargo closer to the foxhole. The closer you can get it to the foxhole, the less distance a humvee or truck or convoy has to travel. If you reduce the amount of distance that vehicle has to go to get its cargo, then you decrease the risk of an improvised explosive device impacting a convoy. So, the Airmen at Incirlik are directly and indirectly related to the effort to mitigate the threat to convoys in Iraq. We can get the cargo to more bases in Iraq and quicker," Colonel Stinnette said.

"The greatest accomplishment of this airlift hub is that every time we fly a sortie, we keep a convoy of trucks and drivers off of the dangerous roads of Iraq," said Col. Mike Cassidy, 385th Air Expeditionary Group commander.

Since the inception of the Cargo Hub mission in June of 2005, more than 103,000 tons of cargo have been moved through Incirlik. Total Force teamwork made this happen with active duty, guard and reserve Airmen, U.S. civilian personnel and Turkish nationals contributing. The 728th AMS, the 385th AEG and the 39th Air Base Wing all support the mission.

"What we have moved is the equivalent of an entire cruise liner (its weight) -- by air," Captain Burnham said .

"Incirlik Airmen should hold their heads high knowing that they have accomplished something great. Regardless of your unit patch and Air Force specialty, everyone on this installation has contributed to this total force team. From airfield management to lodging management, vehicle and AEG maintenance, fuels, command post, in sum the entire Incirlik community has had a role to play in supporting the Cargo Hub and we can be proud," Colonel Stinnette said.

Americans have been operating at Incirlik for 51 years. Other recent missions at Incirlik include an KC-135 Stratotanker refueling mission for aircraft flying to and from the Afghanistan area of operations; a Turkish KC-135 mission; NATO humanitarian support to the Pakistan earthquake earlier this year; the Lebanon evacuation this year when 1,700 displaced persons were hosted here temporarily and moved to the U.S.; and U.S. fighter jets train at a Turkish weapons range nearby.

"We are the 911 for the region. You want it. You need it. You come to 'the Lick' and the men and women here are going to make it happen. When you walk around Incirlik, you'll think you're in Mayberry. It's a very tight community," Colonel Stinnette said.

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