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Bastion 'Port Dawgs': Small team completes large mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos
  • AFCENT Combat Camera Team
The team works out of several wooden huts and tents, surrounded by pallets, rocks and mud, laboring tirelessly handling the thousands of passengers, pallets and vehicles flying into the Southern Afghanistan base.

They proudly proclaim they move as much cargo here as their unit does back home.

What is the difference? They have 18 people instead of 200 handling the thousands of passengers and tons of cargo arriving monthly at the air field.

Primarily deployed from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., the team is comprised of aerial porters, vehicle maintainers and leadership. They work loading and unloading 80 percent of the cargo coming on to the U.S. Marine and British Army run base in the Helmand Province, the site of recent fighting.

"Our mission here at Bastion is to upload and download all of the cargo coming in to the base here, supporting the U.S. Marines and Army, along with our British and coalition partners," said Master Sgt. Steve Thomas, 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Detachment 1. "We do all of this with only 16 people and two vehicle maintainers, which means we are busy all the time."

Along with their Marine partners, the team works taking care of passenger movement and cargo handling, making sure the right equipment and personnel get where they need to go. Their success lies in their willingness to work together with other units on base to accomplish the mission.

"One of the first things we did was get involved with the Marines, making connections with them and moving forward from there, working as a team. Because of our willingness to do that, our success rate has gone through the roof," said Capt. Edward
Hubshman, 451st ELRS, Det. 1 commander.

The "Port Dawgs," as they liked to be called, are a small Air Force unit on the base, which is primarily run by the U.S. Marine Corps and British Army. Along with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Unit, they have a small presence on the base, but a large mission, with many units relying on their ability to move cargo.

"On a day-to-day basis, our team will work close to 30 aircraft, each full of cargo or passengers," said Sergeant Thomas. "We have to be very flexible because that plane could be a civilian contract plane, or a C-17 Globemaster III. All of them need to be downloaded, and it's our job to make sure it is done safely, quickly and effectively."

According to Sergeant Thomas, his team does that very well, much to the delight of the aircrews flying into the remote base in Southern Afghanistan.

"I have been told by many of the crews that they love to come here; that we are the best load crew in both Iraq and Afghanistan because of how quickly we get them downloaded and uploaded," he said.

The team is proud of their accomplishments, and even more proud of the fact they are keeping pace with the much larger units in Afghanistan, especially at Kandahar, where the main squadron is located. With the upcoming surge in people and equipment, the team is ready to handle the increased number of people coming to the region.

"With the plus up looming, we have seen more and more cargo and personnel being downloaded, but less and less being uploaded," said Sergeant Thomas.

But Capt. Hubshman isn't concerned with the increased workloads on his team.
"I have told them to go ahead and send what you need to send; we will take care of it" he said proudly.

It is that pride which is the signature of the Bastion "Port Dawgs," something which is not lost on surrounding units close to the runway.

Recently, one of the porters took on the task of building a deck for the hut where a lot of the passengers come looking for travel. The team wanted to make a nice place for people to wait for their flights, something which represented them as a whole. Working all day, the team labored together to build the addition, when not working aircraft. Seeing how diligent they worked and how much pride they took in their mission, several other people stopped by to help, one of whom was a contractor, who helped put the roof on.

Sergeant Thomas also recognizes his team's pride and willingness to take all the challenges moving the mission.

"The Airmen and non-commissioned officers that have been brought here are great," said Sergeant Thomas. "They are doing the mission safely and effectively.

"They are making the mission happen every day, and the Marines and Soldiers here appreciate what we do," he added.