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Airmen become jacks-of-all-trades when servicing aircraft at Balad

By RON JENSEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2004

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq — The airmen of Detachment 5, 721st Air Mobility Operations Group are like parking attendants.

They marshal the aircraft at Balad to the right spot on the ramp for unloading. Then they guide them out for takeoff.

It’s a pretty standard Air Force task, said Maj. Grant Izzi, the detachment commander, who is stationed at Guam.

“The mission is a little different in that the aircraft don’t stay on the ground very long,” he said.

For example, he said, a C-17 Globemaster might spend two or three hours at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, home of the 721st AMOG headquarters.

“Normally, [at Balad] a C-17 is on the ground only 30 minutes or so,” said Izzi. “It’s a very high volume, fast-paced ramp out here. I’ve never seen a pace like this.”

He sees more C-5 Galaxies in Balad in one week, he said, than he sees in Guam in one month.

Plus, he said, his airmen handle 16 different types of military and civilian aircraft, more than they would see just about anywhere.

The airmen also perform standard checks and needed maintenance on the planes to get them airborne again.

“I have many different flavors of personnel,” he said of the nearly 40 people in the detachment. “I have F-15 guys, C-130 guys. I have F-16 guys. Of course, C-5, C-17 and the last of the C-141 guys and gals.”

The C-141 Starlifter was phased out of active-duty service in September but is still used by some Air National Guard and Reserve units.

One of Izzi’s guys is Staff Sgt. Jason Harrell, an F-15 crew chief stationed at Elmendorf, Alaska. Since arriving at Balad, he has guided and worked on more aircraft than ever before in his six-year Air Force career.

“It’s an experience I never could have gotten [anywhere else],” Harrell said. “I’ll probably never mess with some of them ever again.”

Although the detachment includes personnel with skills for nearly every military aircraft — they don’t touch the civilian planes — some people were cross-trained to handle tasks outside their specialty.

Some learn to refuel various aircraft, others to replenish the oxygen tanks. Still others learn how to tow aircraft they’ve never towed before.

Like everyone at Balad and the adjoining Logistics Support Area Anaconda, the airmen of the 721st AMOG have to deal with rocket and mortar attacks.

“When we hear the red alert, we have to get everybody off the ramp,” Harrell said. After an attack, they must search the flight line and ramp for any unexploded ordnance.

The attacks notwithstanding, Harrell said, the airmen feel like they are part of the fight to clear Iraq of insurgents. The cargo they help bring to the country is directly related to that effort.

“I feel I am [helping out],” he said. “I’m sure everybody does. I hope they do.”

Izzi said he knows his airmen feel a part of the fight. He has seen them volunteer to load patients onto the medical evacuation flights leaving the base regularly.

“If nothing else does,” he said, “that grabs you.”


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