Aerial port Reserve Airmen value time in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jake Chappelle
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The summer of 2009 has been a busy one for the 446th Airlift Wing since day one. From Operational Readiness Inspection preparations to Air Mobility Command's Rodeo 2009, and from Family Day picnic planning to force restructuring, it's easy to forget to look outside McChord's gates to the Airmen doing great work on deployments. 

A good example would be the Air Expeditionary Force rotation in Balad AB, Iraq where the 36th and 86th Aerial Port Squadrons here returned from in May. 

About 70 personnel from the Reserve McChord aerial ports, who left in December 2008 to perform duties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operations in the Horn of Africa, were attached to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Balad AB. 

"Moving cargo and passengers is an integral part of the war effort," said Tech. Sgt. Marshall Stokoe, 86th APS Air Terminal Operations Center senior information controller. "What we do ensures fewer convoys have to travel on the dangerous roads of Iraq, thus saving lives. I am very proud knowing we contributed to that effort. As a unit, we safely moved 5,318 aircraft, 40,325 tons of cargo, and 65,248 passengers in the months we were there." 

"Balad is the hub," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Kramer, 86th APS. "It's the center of all things moving by air in Iraq. It's Iraq's largest port and one of the biggest in the area of responsibility. We saw more missions on average than most ports. We averaged around 40 to 45 sorties a day for Air Mobility Command aircraft, but they reached as high as 70 and as few as 25, if the weather was bad. We were a very busy port." 

"This is the first time I have deployed to the AOR with a large group from my unit," said Sergeant Stokoe. "This was also my first deployment to the war zone. It was much more intense than any of my other deployments and definitely an eye opening experience."  

Sergeant Stokoe breaks his job down simply. 

"I oversaw the loading of aircraft to ensure maximum airframe utilization. I distributed information to the entire aerial port and other agencies to ensure passengers and cargo made it to their destination safely and on time. I worked with the command post to coordinate safe and on time arrivals and departures of all military and civilian cargo. I also created and maintained daily airlift schedules and monitored several different transportation systems to establish in-transit visibility." 

Also an ATOC information controller, Sergeant Kramer had similar duties. 

"As an air travel operations person, it's my duty to go out and meet the airplane, find out what they need, tell them what they were going to get from us in way of cargo and passengers, and see to everything getting done. ATOC is the 'supervisor' of the port, per se. We control and disseminate all the information and make sure everybody gets what they need and that everybody does what they need to do within the specified timeline." 

Senior Master Sgt. Lee Henry, 36th APS, ATOC aircraft superintendent, speaks about the importance of making sure supplies, troops, and the remains of fallen heroes arrive to their final destinations in a timely manner. 

"When we moved human remains, it was a reminder of how important our mission was and the importance of troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country," said Sergeant Henry. "Everything we moved was mission critical. Everything from tires to heavy equipment needed to be promptly moved so the people in the combat zone could do their job." 

According to Sergeant Henry, helping send troops home was a sign of relief. 

"Helping Soldiers who had been out in the AOR for a year at a time get back home to their families made me feel good. Those guys did their time and I got to help them go home. It was also a reminder of how big my job was." 

Despite the value of each individual job, Chief Master Sgt. Arthur Green, 36th APS, superintendent, emphasizes camaraderie. 

"We had a good time on the deployment," said Chief Green. "When you're deployed, you learn a lot more about the people you work with. There were people who stepped up and excelled at their jobs, who I normally wouldn't expect to. That impressed me. Both aerial ports worked well together and we absolutely went over there and represented the 446thAirlift Wing." 

Sergeant Kramer agrees. 

"We did a good job over there representing the 446thAW," said Sergeant Kramer. "The active duty and other service branches and components thought we did a good job too." 

"I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with the caliber of people that went with us," said Sergeant Stokoe. "There are countless stories of people who volunteered their time off over there to help others. It was amazing. Not only did we have a number of people volunteer at the theater hospital, but we had several people volunteer to build an amazing new lounge area in the aerial port to help build morale. It was an incredible effort all around, and I am extremely proud to have been a part of it." 

Chief Green looks forward to the next rotation. 

"I'm definitely ready for the next deployment," said Chief Green. "This one was tough for some folks, but after some time for adjustment, they performed well like everyone else and are ready to go again." 

Sergeant Kramer has similar feelings with his experience. 

"It was a good trip. I enjoyed it. I missed my wife, but I would go back and do it again. I met a lot of good people and really enjoyed the work. I felt like I accomplished something. I was glad to home, but I also felt bad that I left the guys who were still there to soldier on for a while longer. I would've stayed longer if they had let me. It was a lot of hard work and long days, but I wouldn't hesitate to go back. I felt like I was doing something worthy to the cause." 

Not exactly your classic summer travel plan, but a memorable one for these Reserve Airmen.