Port squadron moves OEF cargo, passengers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mitch Gettle
  • 320th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Mission "No.1" for the 320th Air Expeditionary Wing is keeping supply lines moving within the Operation Enduring Freedom corridor. When viewing the action on the flightline at a forward-deployed location, it seems everything just happens according to some master plan.

That is where the men and women of the 320th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron come in to the picture. They are a big reason cargo and people continue to move on.

The process starts at the nerve center for the aerial port, the Air Terminal Operations Center. communication apparatus and schedule boards with daily flight information fill the 20- by 20-foot shipping container that houses the ATOC.

"Here we do everything from load planning to forecasting airlift for pending outbound and inbound cargo," said Staff Sgt. Scott Morrison, a 320th EAPS mission controller deployed here from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

The 320th Air Expeditionary Wing averages about 20 C-130 Hercules flights a day and the cargo varies each day.

"In the states cargo has set priorities, here priorities for cargo are set by what is needed downrange," said Morrison. "You see the big picture here."

One of the many jobs for ATOC personnel is the ramp coordinator.

"The ramp coordinator meets the planes, briefs the air crew on the loads, and also coordinates movement of the cargo and passengers on the flightline," said Morrison.

"ATOC is responsible for making sure cargo and passengers are loaded on time," said Capt. Steve Rickenbacher, 320th EAPS commander, also deployed from Charleston AFB.

Workspace is minimal here and the ATOC shares the small facility with the ramp workers.

"The ramp personnel use the equipment to move, load and off-load the cargo," said Rickenbacher.

Being here provides most aerial porters a chance to gain experience.

"I usually work (passenger service) at home, but here I'm working ramp," said Airman 1st Class Dan Duhaime, of the 320th EAPS, also from Charleston. "This gives me an opportunity to learn new vehicles and equipment and do some different things within APS."

Both ATOC and "ramp" workers cannot do their jobs unless the cargo is prepared. That job falls on the shoulders of the cargo processing flight.

"We average about 20 pallets a day, which is pretty good considering we have very limited work space, 13 personnel assigned, and we're working 24 hour ops," said Staff Sgt. Mark Frick, the 320th EAPS cargo processing supervisor, another Charleston aerial porter. "The cabin load, which is the amount of tonnage allowable for a C-130 to take-off, is much lower than its larger brethren aircraft. For this reason cargo processing does a little more work.

"The cabin load reduces the size of the pallets we're used to doing at home," said Frick. "We do more pallets than we did back home but they have less cargo per pallet."

The 320th AEW performs a hub-and-spoke operation in support of other Operation Enduring Freedom locations.

"We're the hub here and we have (various) spokes or destinations we move cargo through in the AOR," said Frick. "We handle quite a bit of high-priority cargo that gets transported to very unique locations."

The cargo moves, but if there were no one at the other end to use the supplies, the whole process would be for naught.

"We receive, process, transfer, on- and off-load all passengers traveling through here," said Staff Sgt. Horace Doyal, a 320th EAPS passenger service agent deployed from Little Rock AFB, Ark. "We answer questions on upcoming flights, assign them flights and we transport the passengers to the aircraft.

Travel through here is not unlike space available travel around the world. This is destination where passengers going to other OEF locations must wait for available aircraft.

"Passengers here on orders to other locations must sign up as soon as they arrive," said Staff Sgt. John Tigner, a 320th EAPS passenger service agent from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. "We post available seats on aircraft after we receive the seat release.

"Priority is based on travel status; going to a (temporary duty) location has priority over going home," said Tigner. "Priority for people going to the same destination is based on date and time of sign up."

The 10-person passenger service staff here functions just like every other passenger service staff throughout the Air Force where, 24-hour operations are the norm.

"We're split into two 12-hour shifts and we process about 100 passengers a day," said Staff Sgt. Victor Moscoso, a 320th EAPS passenger service supervisor from Charleston AFB.

Flexibility is the key to how the aerial port personnel do their job in this fluid environment.

"We can have a plane's cargo and passengers planned or even loaded, and we get a call from (Joint Movement Command) and they need something else," said Rickenbacher. "We unload and reload on the spot."

For the men and women of the 320th EAPS this job is an experience they soon will not forget.

"It's neat to work here -- everyone gets along," said Frick. "The other day we had to build 20 pallets going downrange and the (transportation management office) and supply folks that share our warehouse chipped in to help get the job done." (Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)