Airmen keep planes at Baghdad airport moving

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Russell Wicke
  • 447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
Sather Air Base may not have aircraft assigned to it, but more than 100 fixed and rotary wing aircraft pass through its airfield every day as transients.

The 20 maintainers of the 447th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron transient alert shop work around the clock to control the air traffic on the ramp here, said Capt. Sisco Harris, the 447th EOSS maintenance operations officer. 

"We're responsible for nearly 4,000 aircraft and helicopters transiting through here a month," the captain said. Each one must be properly coordinated through the tower, command post, fuels shop and often aerial port. With only seven parking spaces on the ramp, the flightline can get crowded. 

In a single 24-hour period in July, the transient alert team processed 201 aircraft, Captain Harris said. Officials at U.S. Central Command Air Forces touted the 447th EOSS as having the busiest transient alert shop in the Air Force.

"We are the only airlift hub for Baghdad," Captain Harris said. "There's a big push to limit convoys on the road." 

That initiative is one of the main reasons air traffic in Baghdad is skyrocketing. But the transient alert mission involves more than just parking aircraft. 

Launching and recovering aircraft is the best-case situation, said Master Sgt. Richard Strack, the 447th EOSS superintendent for transient alert. Many times; however, aircraft land with a maintenance problem -- and it's his crew that is depended upon to make the aircraft repairs.

"(Our rotation) has experienced more maintenance issues than any other past (air and space expeditionary force rotation)," Sergeant Strack said. Since mid May, more than 30 aircraft have required repairs.

"Repairs we deal with most are hot brakes and blown tires," said Staff Sgt. Trey Brown, a 447th EOSS crew chief. He explained the runway, prior to April 2003, wasn't built well and patch jobs often crumble as a result. Other maintenance problems result from the extreme heat, as Baghdad International Airport experiences temperatures into the 130s over the summer.

"Ambient heat causes expansion, which results in a lot of fuel leaks," Sergeant Brown said. "Dust is also a big problem. It clogs filters and gets everywhere." 

Although broken aircraft are frustrating interruptions, their biggest challenge is organizing surges of incoming aircraft.

"This place would be like a city without traffic lights if not for us," he said.

Considering no one on the team had experience with transient alert, Captain Harris said they're performance is high speed.

"None of us (work as) transient alert back at our home stations," he said, "but we find ways every day to make the mission happen."

Their efforts have contributed to taking approximately 8,000 convoys off the road, Captain Harris said. 

"I'd rather work out here twice as hard as I do now, than to put some Airman or Soldier on a convoy out of here," Sergeant Garrity said. "That justifies every hour I spend on the ramp." 

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