Reporter’s Notebook: Shoveling snow, shuttling troops all in a day’s work at Manas
MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan — Imagine living in a small town where the population doubles, then halves, once a week.
Welcome to Manas Air Base, the primary hub for troops heading to and from Afghanistan — and, with a recent uptick in troop rotations in and out of Afghanistan, a pretty hopping place.
Every week, the 1,100-plus airmen who inhabit the base full-time play host to 1,000 to 1,200 transient troops, both American and foreign. Each week, airmen at the base conduct more than 80 air missions, pump about 200,000 gallons of jet fuel, move and house 1,000 transients and allot no more than six beers to each resident and visitor.
“We move a lot of folks through this camp,” said base commander Col. Randy Kee, of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing, a group culled from active-duty airmen, reservists and air national guardsmen from around the United States. “Keeps us busy. We’re a little base that does a lot.”
Base staff say they have allotted themselves one extra duty.
“Anything we can do to keep these guys and girls comfortable, that’s what we do,” said Master Sgt. LesRoy Williams, who oversees logistic plans at the base’s passenger terminal.
“We’re trying to go that extra mile,” said 1st. Lt. Suzan Whiting, who also oversees logistics, the base’s passenger terminal and the traffic management office. “We’re providing them with a warm place to stay. They have the comforts of home, basically.”
Let’s hear it ...Although the base has fewer people than a small high school, it appears to have an unusual abundance of cheerleaders.
At a spirited awards and promotion ceremony Friday, groups gathered to cheer on their friends — and themselves.
“If your hands are in the air, we put them there,” yelled members of the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron whenever an airman from the group was awarded a promotion.
The 376th Expeditionary Medical Group’s refrain, “Is there a medic in the house?” was followed by a resounding “Hell, yeah!”
And one group has chosen an oddly scatological rallying cry: “Who’s the poop?”
The answer, of course, is “maintenance group.”
Keeping clear ...The air base’s typically Russian weather — snow, ice, snow, freezing winds and some more snow — pose a unique challenge to airmen of the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s petroleum, oil and lubricants flight. During the winter, temperatures often dip into the negative side of the Fahrenheit scale.
“We struggle,” said fuels manager Senior Master Sgt. Howard Heisey. “Especially when it’s cold and icy. [We do] a lot of shoveling. Liberal use of salt. It slows us down.”
The 35 members of the flight are sequestered near Manas International Airport’s commercial terminal, a sagging, grey passenger building that occasionally receives aging commercial planes on its pothole-strewn tarmac.
From those uninspiring settings, the group energetically maintains about 2 million gallons of jet fuel, about 200,000 gallons of which are pumped into planes heading into and out of Afghanistan.
But the job involves much more than pumping gas: Airmen also have to keep a close eye on the oil yard’s 14 fuel bladders, shovel snow out of 7-foot deep trenches around the fuel bladders, and process and inspect all fuel to ensure it meets military standards.
Their labors at the oil yard earn them pride and something else: a distinctive aroma.
“Normally when we go to the chow hall, people all know we’re [petroleum, oil and lubricants],” said Master Sgt. Frank Needs.
His colleague, Master Sgt. Bradford Bush, disputed the assertion.
“What smell?” Bush said with an impish smile. “I can’t smell anything.”