Reserve logistics officer keeps composure during fast-paced deployment

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Maj. John Dyson has filled military professions that, not only demanded critical attention to detail, but moved at high-operations tempos as well. It probably wasn't a surprise when the 86th Aerial Port Squadron operations officer volunteered for a deployment to the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, November 2012 to June 2013.

It can be assumed that a person who provided oversight for moving more than 220,000 U.S. warfighters, 17,000 short tons of baggage, and just fewer than 3,000 short tons of cargo on 2,700-plus missions (not to mention at a 99.9-percent aircraft on-time departure reliability rate) has an intense demeanor.

But if that person happens to be Major Dyson, who produced those numbers as the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Squadron Aerial Port Flight commander during his deployment, then it couldn't be further from the truth.

"I tend to have a very tempered approach to anything that comes my way," Dyson, an Environmental Health and Safety-Quality Regulatory Affairs advisor for Cardinal Health in Fife, Wash., said. "When I come off that way to the folks that work for me, it keeps them calm. It keeps them reasonable, as opposed to getting in a subjective emotional state."

His leadership here related with his experience.

"I've been downrange on numerous occasions, so I know what it's like to have a calm demeanor and lead with the mission already moving at a fast tempo," said Maj. Tony Edwards, 86th APS commander. "As soon as you land on ground, you're forced to seamlessly pick up where your predecessor left off, and find ways of improving the mission to make it easier for the guy who steps in for you."

Dyson's tempered approach at the port allowed small room for error, but large room for improvement.

"There were hundreds of things that could have affected you, every single day, from keeping the mission from running smoothly," he said. "My guys were in the business of alleviating those (types of) issues. We would process anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 passengers in a week. It was a very busy time with a lot of people coming through and going home."

When the Gig Harbor, Wash. resident assumed his squadron's logistical duties, he was a captain. But that didn't last long, as his silver bars were upgrade to a gold oak leaf. But before he could break out the polishing cloth for his new rank, Dyson would face a test in calamity form.

On May 3, about a month before his scheduled return home, tragedy struck when three Airmen perished from a KC-135 Stratotanker mishap in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Dyson and his fellow logistics officers created a plan for aid.

"We were notified immediately after the crash happened," he said. "We developed a course of action to develop a rotation of officers to perform relief duties."

Dyson had a small amount of time to let the reality of the mishap process in his mind before his three-day stint as the Emergency Operations officer and on-scene commander was called upon.

"I went out there approximately a week after the crash occurred," he said. "My primary objective, for those next three days, was to ensure we had seamless coverage during the aircraft recovery and collection efforts. I was also there to coordinate with the EOC in Manas, for any supplies we would need. My approach was to make sure the mission got done, everybody was in the loop, and everything went seamless," he added.

In order for that to succeed, communication became an imperative device.

"As the three days progressed, we had different challenges given to us," he said. "There were a lot of things that had to be coordinated. We did a lot of negotiating, through interpreters. Your relationship with your interpreter was imperative because he was working with the Kyrgyz military, and we had to stay flexible with what they asked for."

In addition to the EOC and Kyrgyzstan Army, Dyson worked with Air Force Pararescue and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for recovery efforts. He also worked with attaches from the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan embassies to help with other affairs.

Dyson had a lot on his plate with the recovery and his aerial port duties. But he explained how he and his crew were still able to get the job done at the port.

"We really had to measure it, day by day, to ensure we could transfer the number of passengers we flowed through Manas on a daily basis," he said. "We had to take a good hard look, to ensure we wouldn't restrict our capacities back at base, while still supporting what we needed to at the crash site--and that's what we did. We were able to send three, five, eight, or 10 people out to help."

A 24-year Air Force veteran, Dyson admitted he didn't have much practice with real-world emergencies prior to his deployment. Instead, he relied on his training and experience to shoulder his site-commander duties.

"I've deployed to Bagram (Air Field, Afghanistan)," said Dyson, who worked airfield operations and air traffic control while serving on active duty. "That in of itself was day in and day out--a little more high-ops tempo, but nothing to the magnitude of aircraft recovery. You get onsite, unsure of how the locals are going to react and you certainly want sensitivity to what's going on. When you go out there, you don't know what to expect. But when you get there, the training does step in and things flow."

Dyson and his Airmen, not only worked the aerial port mission at a constant high-intensity rate, but he was able to multitask on top of it.

He said he organized the logistics and ground-handling requirements for U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's visit to the Transit Center.

If that wasn't enough, he also created the airlift channels for the recently established KC-135 Detachment at Mazar-e-Sharif Air field, Afghanistan, which saved the Air Force more than 1,500,000 gallons of jet petroleum per week.

The major remained humble when he acknowledged the hard work of the Airmen who served under him during his six-month tenure.

"I couldn't have done it without them," said Dyson, who also served in the enlisted ranks early in his career. "The recognition given for their effort and for stepping up was just paramount. We had a lot of folks who wanted to step up. They wanted to volunteer. They wanted to be part of that. Their technical knowledge and engagement in the mission made my job much easier. It actually encouraged me, and helped define me as a leader."

Notwithstanding the tragedy, Dyson said his deployment was a good experience.

"I love deploying," he said. "We got done what we intended to get done, so I don't think I would have done anything different."

Some said people discover their true selves when faced with major decisions under duress or high-pressure situations.

"Nobody plans a crisis or for things to become turbulent," Edwards said. "But unfortunately, they happen. From that point, you can keep leading - or panic."

Dyson chose to lead.