US spending millions to improve supply hub in Middle East
By CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2017
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN SOUTHWEST ASIA — The U.S. Air Force is doing an estimated $34 million renovation to a base here that serves as a key supply hub for Mideast operations.
The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing is making improvements on a base known by U.S. forces as “The Rock.” The upgrades include base runway repairs, expansion of aircraft taxi areas, and the construction of shelters for the MQ-9 Reaper drone and new living quarters.
Although military leaders haven’t directly tied the construction to a prolonged presence in the region, they have alluded to staying here well into the future.
The U.S. military may remain in Iraq for years after defeating the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford have said.
Beyond Iraq, U.S. presence in the Middle East serves national security interests and balances against regional challenges from other nonstate actors such as al-Qaida and countries such as Iran.
“As missions change and operations increase or decrease, so do our facilities and operational footprint,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command said in a statement. “Construction on the base is an example driven directly by these type of requirements.”
The base, which houses several C-130s and C-17s, supplies equipment and personnel to U.S. Central Command operations, including to Afghanistan and to the coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Air Force also conducts electronic attack and drone missions from the location.
One of the major projects the 386th will start this spring is a $7 million overhaul of the living quarters for airmen known as the “Tents to Trailers” project.
For the past 15 years, most rotational forces deployed to this location have been housed in tents that have been maintained and upgraded over time, 386th AEW public affairs said.
The tents have a few amenities like refrigerators and climate control to keep the temperature manageable in the base’s austere location.
Feedback about the tents has been mixed, 386th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy commander Maj. Adam Burwinkle said. Airmen who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may be OK with the living quarters, while other airmen may want certain improvements. Consequently, the base plans to replace a number of tents with about 33 trailers that will be more efficient and provide a better quality of life, he said.
Airmen seem to welcome the more home-like feel the trailers may provide.
“Looking at a diagram, seeing how its sectioned off, it does feel a little more homey,” said Senior Airman Dennis Miller. “You have your own space. We’ve created our own spaces (in the tents) with cord and sheets, but this is built in, having your own wall.”
The trailers may also make the living quarters more than just a place to sleep, said Senior Airman Jan Ronel Recano.
“Clipping your nails or something as quiet as that would wake people up (in the tents),” Recano said. “So that’s already a big change.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Silvey Hollenback, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron chief of operations engineering, center, and Senior Airman Steven Medina, 557th Expeditionary Squadron electrician, right, dismantle a large aircraft maintenance shelter at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, on Feb. 8, 2017. The LAMS was being torn down in order to make room for the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing to house a fleet of MQ-9 Reapers
CASEY OSBORNE/U.S. AIR FORCE