NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Inside the 725th Air Mobility Support Squadron’s maintenance hangar, it will not be a silent night on Christmas Day.
One plane needs an engine. Another has a problem with its heating. A third needs its flight controls fixed.
“All of those must be handled over Christmas break,” said Col. Daniel Lentz, the 725th commander.
While the holidays traditionally mean a slower work schedule, this year the war on terrorism and a possible showdown with Iraq mean many servicemembers are working overtime.
A steady flow of planes coming in and taking off only adds to the heavy workload this holiday season.
In Rota, even those not working cannot travel too far from the base gates. Without orders, a servicemember cannot leave the Iberian Peninsula.
Capt. John Orem, the U.S. base commander in Rota, ordered the leave limitations months ago to give families time to adjust their travel plans and put off any hopes of going to the United States to visit. He said commands are simply “synchronizing” manning with the support demanded — something he does not foresee changing any time soon.
“I have certain activities around here that are running on all cylinders, a high RPM,” he said. “But we’re doing it safely and efficiently.”
The workload and activity level has gone up considerably in the past six months as the Pentagon readies its forces in the Persian Gulf region.
The naval station, known as the “Gateway to the Mediterranean,” is an ideal place for planes and ships to stop at because the base is halfway between the continental United States and Southwest Asia. Most of the 3,000 active-duty personnel stationed at the base help support the ships, planes and transient personnel in some way.
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks last year, the flight line has seen five times more planes, Lentz said.
At the pier, it is no different. A dozen ships have come and gone the past week, keeping supply workers busy refueling and restocking.
“It’s been pretty hectic,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ken Hayes, a Navy storekeeper with the base’s Supply Department.
Commanders do not expect the work to slacken.
Supervisors with the 725th have had to juggle schedules to keep people fresh and focused. Many of the mechanics have had to work longer hours to keep up with the demand.
While the work load has jumped, the number of people doing that work hasn’t. The squadron has handled the load with the same number of staff.
Most Air Mobility Command squadrons, which keep the Air Force’s cargo planes running, have been busy.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, hundreds of planes passed through Rota and Morón Air Base, southeast of Seville. If there is another conflict between the U.S. and Iraq, it is likely the bases would again become critical hubs for loads of personnel, food, supplies, fuel and bombs.
“I think given the current level of deployment in the Air Force, the Army and the Navy, you’re going to see the same level of activity here until that level of deployment curtails,” said Orem, who took command this summer.
As long as there are troops in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere, commanders and strike planners will come to rely on this base in southern Spain, he added.
“We support logistically all of those deployed units. As long as they’re out there, we’re going to be pushing logistics, fuel and food and people. When the deployment cuts back, you’ll see our level of activity cut back, and I can’t predict when that's going to happen.”