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Airmen enable Marines in Iraq

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (AFNS) -- Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen work around the clock to sustain and improve the Task Force Al Taqaddum advise and assist site here. Each service and section plays an important role in ensuring the success of this mission, part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

One unit in particular is tasked with expeditionary airfield operations. Airmen with the 321st Contingency Response Element from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, are on the flightline every night receiving the supplies necessary for Task Force Al Taqaddum.

Lt. Col. Kyle A. Benwitz, the 321st CRE commander, said his unit has all the right capabilities for this mission.

"My unit is the right size, trained and equipped to respond and open an air base, regardless of service, within 12 hours of notification," Benwitz said. "For the instance of this mission, we were the right capability to deploy in very short notice and what we bring (are) all the capabilities required to open and operate an airfield."

Benwitz explained that once his unit is on the ground, they can facilitate landing aircraft within three hours. There are many different military specialties and specialized equipment required for expeditionary airfield operations. Benwitz said their small team brings together all the necessary parts to make the mission successful.

"We bring a complete airfield base operations support," Benwitz said. "We provide air traffic control, aerial port, vehicle maintenance, aircraft maintenance and security forces that can bridge the gap from initial deployment to a sustained, enduring force."

Senior Airman Daniel Eliza, an air transportation specialist with the unit, works a 12-hour shift each night alongside the rest of the flightline personnel to keep aircraft loaded with supplies and personnel rolling in to Al Taqaddum Air Base.

"We support the mission by downloading and uploading cargo off multiple aircraft to initially open and then sustain an air base," Eliza said.

Al Taqaddum receives its supplies from massive transport aircraft like the KC-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, along with rotary and tilt-rotor aircraft, and Eliza uses heavy equipment to offload the supplies.

"We use forks and (all-terrain forklifts), which have a lifting capacity of 10,000 pounds," Eliza said. "We also use a Halvorsen Loader, which can lift can lift three pallets and 25,000 pounds."

Though the bulk of the airfield operations are done by these Airmen, Marines work with them side by side to support the mission in several ways.

"This is a joint environment that we're working in, and there are Marines who will be driving material-handling equipment to assist with the download of the rotary wing aircraft," Benwitz said. "We also have Marine security forces that augment our own Air Force security forces to provide that 360-degree security for the airfield."

Eliza said he realizes that he plays a crucial role in support of the Task Force Al Taqaddum mission, but he also knows there is a lot going on around him that enables him to do his job safely and effectively. Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command are responsible for the long-term security and logistics at the site.

"The (security forces) Marines are working hard and making sure we're protected and safe while we do our job," Eliza said. "They're building up the base as well, and if it wasn't for them we wouldn't be living in an air conditioned tent right now, and wouldn't have showers or actual restrooms."

This unit won't stay at Al Taqaddum AB forever; they will eventually be replaced by a more permanent set of airfield operators as the base becomes more established.

"We're a mobility unit; we get prepared, we stand by until crises happen or emergencies or natural disasters," Eliza said. "When we get the call, we have our stuff already packed and we head out the door to get things done."

Expeditionary airfields are the specialty of the 321st CRE, and once it is relieved at Al Taqaddum AB it will begin resetting for its next employment.

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