By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
April 8, 2009 - The war may be fought in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, but for most troops and cargo heading into theater, it starts on a small air strip just outside of Kuwait City, Kuwait. At the small base that supports the Theater Gateway – the military group in Kuwait charged with getting troops and goods in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan -- about 85 airmen from the Air Force's 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron work around the clock supporting the warfighter from behind the lines.
"If I'm not doing my job, I'm doing a disservice to the Air Force, and I'm not getting cargo and personnel out to the fight. It's huge," said Air Force 1st Lt. Lydia Chebino, the aerial port commander. "Mission success is getting their stuff to them as quickly as possible."
Chebino and her crew work day and night, seven days a weeks shipping out anything that will fit on a plane, she said. The large mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles known as MRAPs roll regularly into the C-17s. Helicopter replacement blades and military working dogs also make the list, along with tons of other cargo and thousands of troops.
The logistics readiness officer from Texas joined the Air Force looking for a challenge and wanting to travel. Now she finds herself deployed to Kuwait and in charge of operations as the largest supplier of troops and cargo of any air portal in the region.
"It's phenomenal. I don't think we take the time to stop and think 'We moved 2,000 passengers today,'" Chebino said. "It's pretty amazing to see what my flight does."
Chebino's airmen don't control the flights or the incoming cargo and personnel. They oversee the movement of cargo and troops that come in and fly out on the military aircraft.
Every month, the crew moves 60,000 passengers in and out of the base, about 6,000 tons of cargo and supports 1,500 sorties of aircraft, mainly C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster IIIs, she said.
Massive databases track the numbers of troops and the types and destinations of cargo. All of the data is scanned into a tracking system, similar to a grocery store scanning system, and it can be accessed by units around the world. Nothing sits on the line longer than 72 hours, Chebino said.
"We've gotten really smart with our in-transit visibility," she said.
Crewmembers, self-nicknamed the "Port Dogs," work 12-hour shifts, splitting the day so each gets its share of the blistering summer heat. Besides the heat, the job comes with other inherent dangers. Moving tons of cargo with heavy equipment can be a dangerous mix for poorly placed arms and fingers. But, Chebino said, the crew has completed more than 2,000 missions in the past three months without a safety incident.
Although her airmen are not on the frontline of the fight, Chebino said they understand the overall impact their mission has on the war efforts, and are intensely proud of the crew's job.
"They just know the mission and they work it and they do a damn good job," she said. "We never close our doors -- holidays, birthdays, you name it -- and we're pushing through."