Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yearlong effort shifts U.S.' main Afghanistan air hub

by Maj Michael Meridith
18 AF/PA

2/18/2014 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Nearly a year of intense planning among a global group of stakeholders came to fruition with the recent transition of the Air Force's main Afghanistan air transportation hub from Kyrgystan to a new temporary location in Romania.

The transition comes in the wake of the transition of operations from Manas, Kyrgystan. For more than a decade, the Manas Transit Center oversaw the movement of much of the U.S. military's passengers and cargo into and out of Afghanistan. On Feb. 1, that changed as Romania's Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base reached initial operational capability as the new air hub.

"The process [for the transition] began in March 2013," said Chris Rosenthal of the 18th Air Force, and a key planner in a global group that grew to include stakeholders from the Department of State, Joint Staff, U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Air Forces Europe, U.S. Army Europe, Air Mobility Command, the 18th Air Force, and the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center), as well as Romanian military and civilian government officials.

According to Rosenthal, the complex planning process began with the development of a timeline to ensure the transition was complete well before the expiration of the Manas lease in July 2014. With the timeline set by July 2013, the team developed an initial concept of operations, supported by a site visit to meet with local authorities.

"In the next several months we wrote and coordinated orders, submitted requests for forces, and held numerous meetings. All of this culminated in a rehearsal of our concept, which we presented in January to Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, the commanding general of U.S. Army Europe in January," said Rosenthal.

Rosenthal noted that the rehearsal was a success, validating months of collaborative effort by team, and laying the foundation for the February start of operations in MK. He added that despite the challenges presented by the planning and execution of the effort, those involved were gratified by what it has meant for their ultimate customers ... the men and women of the U.S. military.

Those points were echoed by Lt. Col. Todd McCoy, commander of the 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron based out of MK, who has responsibility for ensuring the safe transportation of passengers to and from Afghanistan.

"It's the passengers that really benefit from what is a classic example of great partnership," he said. "From planning to the point of execution, where we faced challenging weather and infrastructure issues, success was guaranteed by a group of dedicated joint professionals working together."

McCoy added that the fruits of the partnership were not only the establishment of an essential strategic hub in support of the Presidentially-directed Afghanistan drawdown but also cost savings for the American taxpayer.

"Thanks to our partnership with the Romanian authorities, we negotiated an increase in the airport's weight-bearing capacity that allowed us to add additional fuel at MK at a fuel cost half that in the AOR. Now, we save over $20 thousand each mission," said McCoy.

"By standing up MK we are able to continue to support the movement of our troops without missing a beat," Rosenthal said. "This really is a testament to having the right people in place to perform a challenging task with leadership and ingenuity."

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