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Aerial Porters Partner unite for mission success

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Cammie Quinn
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Any good puzzle comes with different shapes and sizes of pieces, which, when configured properly, come together to make a complete picture. The same pattern is true for the military specifically during deployments.

Staff Sergeant John Fitzgerald, deployed from Pope's 3rd Aerial Port Squadron, is witnessing first hand, how the different pieces of the deployment puzzle can work together to make a successful picture.

He originally joined the military to follow what he said is a love for travel, aircraft and the ability to make a difference. With the aerial port squadron, he said, he is able to capture all three.

Sergeant Fitzgerald is from McDonough, GA and is married to Staff Sgt. Krista Fitzgerald 43rd Airlift Wing, Antiterrorism Office. He and his wife have been at Pope since January 2007 and have a son, John, 2.

Sergeant Fitzgerald deployed to Camp Bastion in January 2010, and serves as the passenger service non commissioned officer-in-charge. Camp Bastion is the main British military base in Afghanistan, located in a remote desert area close to the capital in the Helmand province.

Smooth passenger movement and transition are the goal of the aerial porter, and as the passenger service supervisor, his job is to fine-tune on and off loading procedures.

"Our primary responsibility is to ensure that passenger movement on the aircraft flows smoothly," said Sergeant Fitzgerald. "We on and offload passengers and cargo from the aircraft."

Since his arrival to Afghanistan in January, through June 10, Sergeant Fitzgerald said he and his team have assisted more than 690 missions and more than 31,000 passengers. Mass unit movies, re-deployers and the kick-off of the surge in Afghanistan have contributed to the speed with which the Port Dawgs, as they are known, work.

"I've never seen cargo or passengers move like that, it's unbelievable what we do every day," he added.

The 3rd APS members deploy as a team and coordinate with the Navy, Marines and Army to accomplish their mission. In Camp Bastion, he spends his time within the passenger terminal, where he works with his NATO counterparts to develop and use a movement plan for cargo and passengers. What makes this deployment different for Sergeant Fitzgerald is the direct working relationship he has with international military members.

"I didn't expect to be working this closely with British, Danish, Georgians, Estonians and other joint NATO members," he said. "We together to coordinate all passenger movement on fixed wing aircraft."

Sergeant Fitzgerald said the secret to a successful deployment is a positive attitude and an open mind. He uses this mantra with his day to day communication with his NATO counterparts.

His positive attitude is reflected in the company he keeps, and Sergeant Fitzgerald has become fast friends with a movement control NCO, Staff Sgt. Michael Morgensen, from the Denmark Army. The two sergeants have worked together to ensure the passenger terminal in Camp Bastion is up to par.

Sergeant Morgensen said working with the international service members has been the greatest development on both a professional and personal level.

"We have been building up a strong Air Force friendship between the US and the United Kingdom," Sergeant Morgensen said. "We, as service members within NATO, have the choice to stay alone and be defensive or stand together and be offensive."

The sergeants aren't afraid of hard work and work together to overcome communication and cultural barriers to develop a successful plan for Camp Bastion's PAX terminal.

It is when the team overcomes obstacles that Sergeants Fitzgerald and Morgensen feel the mission is achieved.

"It's a challenge trying to put bits and pieces together to build a movement plan that will actually work," Sergeant Morgensen added. "I find great development in my work and enjoy dealing with the PAX. It's a trusted job and a lot of people are dependent on us to take care of PAX movement."

The cohesiveness and reliability of the team's work was put to the test a few months ago, when the more than 100 Danish soldiers found themselves in Afghanistan with no ride home.

"Their flight was cancelled, leaving more than 100 Danish soldiers stranded in Kabul," Sergeant Fitzgerald said. "We tried to fly them out of theater on a USAF C-17 in order to get them where they needed to be."

As a result of the groundwork the porters established, the Danish Air Force established command and defense command in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force, allowing the NATO personnel to return home to their families, he added.

"It was one of the proudest accomplishments I've had during this deployment," said Sergeant Fitzgerald.

"It's exciting to see the difference we are making and how what we've achieved in what feels like a short time," Sergeant Fitzgerald added. "I am truly proud of our APS members here. We can see the difference we've made and can only hope to continue the relationship between the US and our NATO partners."