Training broadens 35th aerial porters' experience

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark Olsen
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

With a measured pace and dignity, 35th Aerial Port Squadron Senior Airman Carolina Vergara, Special Handling Journeyman, and five other Aerial Porters carried the flag draped transfer case up the cargo ramp on board a C-17 Globemaster III joining nine other identical cases in the aircraft’s cargo hold.

More than 72 years later, the remains of the World War II American servicemen were finally on their way home.


Seventy-two hours after their arrival at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the 35th Airmen were performing one of the most sacred tasks assigned to Aerial Porters.


“It was an honor being a part of the loading team assisting the 721st (Aerial Port Squadron) to respectfully carry and load the cases,” said Vergara. “It was a very humbling experience knowing that these remains could be possibly identified and some families could finally have some closure.”


More than 3,500 miles away from their home station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., 13 Airmen with the 35th performed their annual training Sept. 8 – 23, serving alongside their active duty counterparts, the 721st APS.


The primary goal of annual training tours for Reserve Citizen Airmen is to gain skills and experience that they would not normally receive at their home station.


Ramstein provides that practical experience for visiting Aerial Porters because it serves as a major hub for the movement of troops and supplies into the theaters, as well as the first stop for the wounded and dead before returning to the United States.


The Aerial Porters list of accomplishments during those two weeks was significant: They moved 1,610 tons of cargo, seven tons of mail, 4,342 passengers, which included 418,476 pounds of baggage, and handled 219 inbound and outbound aircraft, as well as handling the remains of 16 American military members.


While those numbers are impressive, they only partly tell the story of what the Aerial Porters accomplished.


For some, it was about getting training so they could become more proficient in their field.  For others, it was the chance to be a part of the fight against ISIS. And for a few, it was the opportunity to learn leadership skills.


The 35th is comprised of four flights and three sections: Passenger Services Flight, Cargo Services Flight, Aerial Port Operations Support Flight, and Ramp Services Flight; Command Support Section, Quality Assurance Section, and Programs Section. These different flights and sections mirror their active duty counterparts.


Within the career field, Airmen are rotated through the air terminal operations center (ATOC), cargo processing, passenger services, ramp services, fleet services, load planning, and special handling sections, allowing opportunities for growth, advanced certifications, and finally, promotion.


“I was able to get all of the QTPs (Qualification Training Package) completed and signed for PAX (passenger service) and special handling,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Paolello, Air Transportation Journeyman. This brings Paolello one step closer to getting promoted.


Air Force Reserve Aerial Port Squadrons are different than active duty squadrons because they are organized around the training and deployment of air transportation specialists in support of combatant commanders.


At Ramstein, the 35th Aerial Porters took that training and put it to work planning the loading of aircraft, palletizing cargo, moving cargo, loading and unloading aircraft, and as well as moving passengers.


“For me, building pallets containing medical equipment and ensuring that they reached their destination safely and in a timely manner was my most significant accomplishment,” said Senior Airman Brandon Van Orden, Air Transportation Journeyman.


Ramstein plays a key role in Operation Inherent Resolve – the U.S. and coalition fight against ISIS.


“The most important part of this TDY (temporary duty) was being able to participate in real world missions,” said Senior Airman Krystin A. Springer-Ince, Air Transportation Apprentice.


“I assisted in building pallets that supported down range missions,” said Senior Airman Gabrielle L. Escallier-Bourbakis, Air Transportation Journeyman.


Building and loading pallets is just one of the tasks Aerial Porters perform. Each Airman is trained in the different types of cargo carrying aircraft, both military and commercial, their specific capabilities and configurations, including weight and balance factors and cargo securing techniques.


“Being able to work hand-in-hand with the 721st to accomplish the mission was amazing,” said Staff Sgt. Oscar Cazares, Air Transportation Apprentice.


During the annual training, some Airmen had the opportunity to reach the next level in their journey from apprentice to journeyman to craftsman.


“My most significant achievement was being able to complete 95 percent of the core tasks I need for my five level (journeyman),” said Airman 1st Class Patrick H. Williams, Air Transportation Apprentice. “Normally, it would have taken me three months to do this. Thanks to the well-trained Airmen at Ramstein, I was able to get it done in 15 days.”


“Two Airmen received upgrade training from journeyman to craftsman level while we were here,” said Maj. Kenya Collins, 35th APS Operations Officer.


“I had the opportunity to receive more on-the-job training in the cargo and ATOC sections,” said Escallier-Bourbakis. This resulted in her getting her journeyman and craftsman level training done.


For a few Airmen, the most important training they received was in being leaders.


“I had the opportunity to shadow both the 721st APS cargo section supervisors, as well as my unit’s leadership team,” said Tech. Sgt. Danielle Grant, Cargo Assistant Team Leader. “I learned a lot about the leadership and management processes used to maintain order within the 721st cargo section and also, from my unit’s leadership, the importance of building solid relationships with our active duty counterparts.”


“Sharing 27 years of military service and knowledge with first-term Airmen and mentoring our team chief was important for me,” said Collins.


For Assistant Team Chief and Ramp Services Supervisor Tech. Sgt. Raymon Martinez it was about actually leading his team of Aerial Porters.


“To me, it was about gaining the experience in leading a group of high-speed Airmen in making sure 100 percent of the required tasks needed for their training were done.”


So, while numbers and statistics tell part of the story, it’s really about the people and their accomplishments. Two weeks gave the 35th Aerial Porters a wealth of new skills and experience that they can put to use when they deploy.


And finally, it was also about returning home 16 Americans.