War on Terrorism

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Balad Airmen move helicopters for Iraq drawdown

by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/20/2010 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- As the drawdown and redeployment of assets continues in Iraq, helicopters from bases in Northern Iraq have made their way here to be inspected, prepped and shipped to new operating locations with the assistance of the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port team.

"We have about 70 helicopters coming through here in just two weeks," said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Farrington, the 332nd ELRS Aerial Port special handling superintendent. "We have to make sure they are properly prepared for shipment even before they touch the ramp of the cargo planes transporting them."

Members of the 332nd ELRS and their Army maintenance counterparts conduct inventory inspections together to make sure each aircraft is airworthy. They remove armament; secure the helicopter blades, fins and other maneuvering gear; and ensure all potentially hazardous materials like batteries, oils and fuel are at safe levels for shipment by air.

"Communication and coordination between the Army and Air Force is what makes this whole thing work," said Capt. Stephen Lee, the 209th Aviation Support Battalion strategic air load officer in charge. "This is a no-fail mission. These aircraft are from U.S. areas in the north, and will be funneled through Joint Base Balad on their way to locations of higher priority. This is a potentially complicated operation, made simpler through proper planning."

Preparation for these movements began months ago, said Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Westcott, the 332nd ELRS Air Terminal manager.

"The Army says they have to move their aircraft, and they work with the Air Force to get it going," Chief Westcott said. "The Army says, 'We have this number of (UH-60) Blackhawks, (AH-64) Apaches, etc., that we have to get from point A to point B.' To help connect the dots from start to finish, the Air Force comes back with, 'We can allot you this number of C-17 (Globemaster IIIs) and C-5 (Galaxies).' And for each aircraft, there is a specific load plan that tells the loadmaster they can load 'this' many helicopters of 'this' particular type onto a C-17 or C-5."

It was this coordination that has made the transport relatively smooth, Captain Lee said.

"We knew what we needed to do in the first half of the planning, and that made implementation and action faster and smoother when the aircraft began to move," Captain Lee said.

The last time helicopters came through JB Balad, it was on a much smaller scale; and even though the mission has increased exponentially, the support of the 332nd ELRS continues to carry on strong.

"This is what we do here: make it happen, whatever the mission is at the time," Sergeant Farrington said. "We won't say 'it's too hot,' when it's 135 to 140 degrees on the flightline; that is when we work together the best. If there is one entity that has problems meeting the line, we all step up to make sure we all hit the line."

Working side-by-side, Army and Air Force members continue their cooperation during drawdown and redeployment.

"Knowing what each of us had to bring to the flightline has paid off tenfold," Captain Lee said. "From the beginning of planning months ago, through the inspection and transport today, I am very proud of my Soldiers and the Airmen here who have made this happen."

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