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Reports from the Front: Squadron develops first Air Force Air Port

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cammie Quinn
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
For this Airman, the call to duty wasn't one that he was overly eager to take. In fact, when he first learned of their six month deployment to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Senior Airman Allen Wheeler and

16 other members of the 3rd Aerial Port Squadron were hesitant to travel from their training at Fort Hood, Texas to deploy only a few days later to the Joint Base. It wasn't until the last leg of the mission that Airman Wheeler appreciated what he gained from his deployment to the desert.

Camp Bastion is the main British military installation in Afghanistan. The Danish, British and Americans all held a military presence on the installation although, according to Airman Wheeler, there weren't many Airmen.

"There were only 25 of us and a few finance people came in convoys occasionally," he said.

The Aerial Port Squadron deploys as a team, and at Camp Bastion, they fell under the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar.

The mission of 3rd APS at Pope is to operate a fixed tactical air terminal facility supporting air, land and aerial delivery of personnel and equipment. The squadron supports training, exercise and contingency operations of collocated Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and Army airborne forces. The squadron also maintains a flexible air terminal force capable of worldwide follow-on deployment. While deployed, the group served a similar purpose.

"We opened up the Aerial Port, we were in charge of launching cargo and bringing in cargo," Airman Wheeler explained. "The flightline was already there ... we came in, got in communication with all the bases in the (Area of Responsibility) and got war fighting material for the Marines."

By opening the port, the team had established the first Air Force Aerial Port in Camp Bastion. The U.S. Aerial Port wasn't exactly up to par prior to the 775th APS. The team coordinated with the Navy "Sea Bees" who helped to level out the ground in order for the Aerial Porters to place in rocks and stones for a level loading area.

On a daily basis, Airman Wheeler and his squadron received their schedule from Air Mobility Command to determine when a flight would return in order for them to do what they do best - construct and deconstruct a plane's load. One benefit Airman Wheeler acknowledges was that while the job performance remained an imperative focus, he learned not to worry about the little stuff as much.

"Our career field is very regulation intensive. Over there you more worry about getting the job done -- because we were in a war zone." A less desirable aspect of the APS team obligations is that they have to return the fallen servicemembers. "It's part of our job, if someone dies, we put them on the aircraft and provide the Material Handling Equipment," Airman Wheeler said. "When they come back, Aerial Porters are the ones who take them off here."

He found that living conditions were strikingly different on a Marine base than on an Air Force base.

"We were living in Alaskan tents with 12 to 15 guys in each tent. It wasn't a lot of living space, but it was better than what the Marines had," Airman Wheeler said. Even the chow hall was lacking in appeal, according to the Airman. "It was just like two or three Alaskan tents stuck together."

When asked what, exactly, an Alaskan tent is, Airman Wheeler described it as being similar to a 50-gallon drum cut in half and sat upside down on the ground.

It was also a challenge working on a predominately Marine installation, as the Air Force and the Marines foster a completely different culture. "They're used to being told exactly what to do, step by step, where, at least in our career field, we're told to 'go do that' and we're expected to get it done," Airman Wheeler said.

The slow development of the Air Force impact on Camp Bastion was unnoticeable, until, that is, the Aerial Port members prepared to leave. They were the first group to arrive after the initial **CRG** group - a group of Aerial Port members collected from a variety of different bases who arrive before anyone else to set up the rudimentary design for their counterparts to complete. The group compared pictures of the base when they arrived in May to September, when they left.

When Airman Wheeler's group first arrived, they were presented with shoddy dining facilities and limited living spaces. By the time they left, a number of Moral Welfare and Recreation facilities had been developed. "When we got there it (was bad)," he said. "We were telling everybody back home about how bad it was and by the time people from our squadron came to replace us, they were like, this isn't bad at all.

"It wasn't a bare base but it was more like a bare base than say, Al Asad or Baghram. Those places are very built up."

Although he isn't eager to deploy to Camp Bastion again, he does want to deploy to a different location. "It was a good experience ... it was a 'real' deployment," Airman Wheeler said. Upon further reflection, Airman Wheeler said his team definitely made an impact. "When we got there, it was like a penny, and by the time we left, it was an entire dollar bill."