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386th ELRS moves thousands of passengers, cargo

The importance of this mission is equivalently clear for the men and women who serve the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Master Sgt. Chad Ehrlich, 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of special handling, points out Marine Corps howitzers that have recently been inspected and processed to be shipped out of an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 14, 2017. In 2017, the 386th ELRS processed and moved more than 65,000 tons of cargo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

The importance of this mission is equivalently clear for the men and women who serve the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Marines rescue cargo after an inspection at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 14, 2017. All cargo being transported on military aircraft is required to be inspected prior to being transported. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- The Air Force is required to move hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo a year in support of military operations around the world.

The importance of this mission is clear for the men and women who serve the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“In July we moved more than 16,000 passengers, which is unheard of,” said Master Sgt. Chad Ehrlich, 386th ELRS noncommissioned officer in charge of special handling. “It is mind-boggling how many passengers that is…obviously, the tempo here is much different (than in the states). I recently started to prep my replacement and I showed him our tempo and he was like ‘holy cow.’”

“The volume and number of movements we do in one day is quite phenomenal,” he said.

Excluding passengers and baggage, in 2017 the 386th ELRS processed and moved more than 65,000 tons of cargo – pushing through approximately 16,000 work orders, requiring more than 200,000 labor hours of work – making it the busiest aerial port in the area of operations. This is comparable to transporting eight bull African bush elephants, or approximately 12 cruise ship size anchors.

Most of this tonnage is being transported to support operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in direct support of Army operations throughout the AOR.

The cargo being moved is broken down into two categories, general cargo and special-handled cargo. Special-handled cargo items include hazardous chemicals, ammunition, armored vehicles and medical supplies including blood and other perishable items crucial to ensuring the safety of service members positioned on the frontlines.

“Every day it’s on our mission boards, some days it’s a single box, (other days) it is full (pallets),” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy Burlingame, 386th ELRS air terminal operation center duty officer, regarding medical supplies and blood products.

Blood products, which include whole blood, plasma and other variation of frozen blood products, require special refrigeration considerations.

“The regulations spell out if the item needs to be frozen or just chilled,” said Burlingame. “Most of what we move here is chilled because we don’t have the capability to move a whole lot of frozen (items).”

Different items have different regulated requirements based on how to safely transport them in and out of the AOR. For example, if the Army requires a M777 A2 Howitzer to be flown out of Iraq and back to the U.S., special handle cargo would first have to inspect the weapon to ensure each part has been secured for transport, and verify it is in operational condition and meets all U.S. customs requirements.

Erlich said special handling operates at a high pace and requires attention to detail, which demands consistent motivation from its Airmen.

All Airmen are required to complete a hazmat course certifying them to inspect hazardous materials and make sure they are packaged and annotated properly to ensure the item can be transported safely to its final destination. Additionally, the Airmen go through a two-week joint inspection course to teach them how to actualize the hazmat training to specific Air Force items, checklists and regulations during inspections.

“When my guys are out there looking at this [cargo], they have been trained to know what to spot and what to do. A lot of it comes from experience,” Ehrlich said. “To be selected to be in special handling you had to be a star.”

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