Aerial Porters: Big 'Dawgs' in the yard

Senior Airman Robert Taylor (front), 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron Passenger Services representative and Tech. Sgt Nicholas Hotham (back), 455th Expeditionary Passenger Services Line supervisor, maneuver a cargo pallet aboard U.S. Air C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, June 7, 2012. Airmen with 455 EAPS serve up to 2,500 passengers daily. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

Senior Airman Robert Taylor (front) and Tech. Sgt Nicholas Hotham (back), maneuver a cargo pallet aboard a C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, June 7, 2012. Taylor and Hotham are deployed to the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron. Airmen with 455th EAPS serve up to 2,500 passengers daily. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN (AFNS) -- Equipment, personnel, or life-saving supplies; if you need it, they will move it. The port dawgs of the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron coordinates the bi-directional movement of assets between the U.S. to Bagram and Bagram to the forward operating bases.

Bagram is one of the busiest taxiways in the world. The aerial port squadron supports this tempo by staying operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They handle an average of more than 100 missions per day.

"The airfield is why we are here," said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Bloxham, the 455th EAPS Air Terminal Operations Center superintendent. "Whether it be the A-10 supporting the troops in combat or us getting the bombs, bullets, food and water to those who are at the forward operating bases, they don't sleep then we don't sleep. That's how it works."

ATOC has operational control of the aerial port. Its personnel are responsible for monitoring the schedules of all aircraft coming in and going out. They monitor the loads that go on and off the planes and oversee the passenger terminal mission.

The ATOC is also responsible for finding the most efficient way to move cargo and personnel swiftly and efficiently. One player in this goal is the load planning position.

Senior Airman Ricardo Reano, a 455th EAPS ATOC load planner, said their job centers around two words: maximum utilization.

"We make it fit," said Reano. "For every inch of space, we try to put loose cargo, pallets or passengers."

The load planners utilize as much space as possible in an aircraft in order to limit the number of flights to accomplish a mission, therefore reducing overall expenses.

Reano said the load planner's calculated decisions on what cargo or passengers go in which plane dictate what the other sections of the unit do with the aircraft.

Once the operations has released seats and assigned aircraft to cargo, the ramp services section begins their mission.

"Anything that gets on an aircraft, we put it there," said Senior Airman James Govro, a 455th EAPS ramp specialist.

Ramp services is responsible for uploading and downloading the cargo from all aircraft that passes through Bagram's aerial port. They move more than one million pounds of cargo on an average day. This includes both joint service and international loads.

"It's a very high-paced job," said Govro. "Bagram has very short ground time for aircraft. So we have to move at high speeds to get the aircraft downloaded and uploaded so they can get out of here and another aircraft can come down."

With such a swift flow of operations, the port dawgs on the ramp adopted a philosophy that allows them to maintain ops tempo, keep 100 percent accountability of all cargo coming in and going out, and ensure the safety of all personnel in the yard.

"Slow is fast," said Master Sgt. Patrick Overly, the 455th EAPS ramp services superintendent. "We have an excellent safety guideline that we follow and uphold. We want everyone to go back home safely. We take it upon ourselves that everyone meets mission capability, but in a safe manner."

Concern for service member's safety extends beyond the cargo yard for the port dawgs.

Overly said everyone in the unit is constantly aware that moving cargo is a vital effort in supporting the war in Afghanistan.

"When it comes to ammunition, food, water and medical supplies, someone's life may depend on whether or not we can get it out the door in time," said Overly.

Some of the unit's support requires specific processes to ship items to and from the FOBs in Afghanistan.

"Special handling takes care of the hazardous cargo, blood shipments, ammo and explosives, rolling stock and vehicles," said Master Sgt. William Hamm, the 455th EAPS special handling superintendent. "Given the situation that we are in fighting the war, there are places that require those items right away. The people in the aerial port know that and key into it."

Tech. Sgt. Bradley Williams, a 455th EAPS ammo movement noncommissioned officer, said that moving ammunition into the war fighters is one of the most important missions the port dawgs have here.

"The last thing we want is for the guy at the front to be out of ammunition and not be able to complete his missions out in the valley or mountain," said Williams.

Special Handling also has a major responsibility in supporting unit line movements. They recently supported a relief in place transfer of authority for the Army's 1st Brigade 82nd Airborne division, the largest RIP TOA in Operation Enduring Freedom history. During the movement, the aerial port processed more than 4,000 tons of cargo and 17,000 passengers.

Whether moving into the fight or returning from it, most personnel in Afghanistan must pass through Bagram's passenger service center.

"The mission is to move people," said Tech. Sgt. Jeff Quenga, a 455th EAPS passenger terminal shift supervisor. "We move war fighters where they are needed. We move them safely and get them out as soon as possible."

The passenger terminal moves an average of 1,700 passengers a day. During a RIP TOA, the PAX may support a movement of up to 2,500 passengers a day.

Quenga said the mindset at the passenger terminal is that they know their role in the aerial port mission and are dedicated to get it done.

The passenger representatives do everything from work the front counter, manifest the passengers, drive machinery for baggage and passengers and load people onto the planes.

Senior Airman Erika Sidari, a 455th EAPS passenger terminal representative said her goal is to get people where they need to go as smoothly and stress-free as possible. She said whether they are going to a different FOB or returning home, they try to make the traveling experience as pleasant as possible.

"It makes me feel good when you have troops who are waiting to go to the aircraft, knowing they are going home," said Sidari. "Their faces light up and you feel good as you get them to their families as quickly as possible."

The joy of directly supporting the needs of the war and its troops is motivation for a lot of the port dawgs on Bagram.

Williams said the aerial port is a major player in ensuring that every unit, every Soldier and every Airman has the supplies and personnel they need to complete their individual missions.

"Almost all of these assets come through Bagram," said Williams. "And it's a good feeling."


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