Editors Note: Lt. Col. Jimmy Fuller, mentioned below, is also a JBLM Airman, a member of 62nd Operations Support Squadron deployed with 817th EAS.
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan The 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron takes great pride in handling their passengers with pride for their flight home.
You see the looks on guys faces you are bringing home and it is indescribable, said Lt. Col. Jimmy Fuller, 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations. It is what we can do for those who have been doing their job on the ground for sometimes more than a year.
Approximately 70 Airmen with the 817th EAS have the rewarding and demanding job of bringing home service members from Afghanistan. Though the majority of the squadron is from Joint Base Lewis-McCord, the 817th EAS is a total force effort, including Pacific Air Forces, Air National Guard, and Reserves Airmen.
The larger number of troops and cargo redeploying increased the operational tempo by about 30 percent, Fuller said. While this means more work for the 817th EAS, they are up to the challenge and are completing the goal.
Normally the squadron transports around 300,000 passengers and 127 million pounds of cargo per year. That equals approximately 25,000 passengers per month; however, this September the squadron transported approximately 32,000 passengers.
Past redeployments kept them well employed, but now the mission is even more focused on the movement of passengers. Each crew member is flying about 50 hours a month. This means crews fly about every other day.
The Transit Center at Manas is considered the gateway to Afghanistan for personnel movement, said Fuller, an Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., alum.
However, the mission success wouldnt be possible without the support of the TCM leadership and all the units out here, said Lt. Col. Jason Ginn, 817th EAS commander.
But it is not about the numbers; the Airmen realize each service member is a person with a family and a life returning home. Fuller encourages the crew members to engage, talk to, and encourage the passengers.
It is a lot of fun to bring service members from Afghanistan, said Capt. Beau Suder, 817th EAS C-17 pilot. You never know what you will get. Sometimes its a plane full of people cheering and dancing. It is rewarding to get the men and women out of there who have been there for six to 12 months. It gives a purpose to what we do.
And it doesnt go unnoticed by the passengers.
A Marine lieutenant colonel came up to the flight deck just to say thank you, Suder added. Theyve been on the ground for sometimes up to a year, and he is telling us thank you.
The 817th EAS sees these raw emotions firsthand.
I am amazed at the emotion you can see, Fuller said. Sometimes I dont get to say a word, but I can see it in their face. You can directly see the impact you are having, it is rewarding in its own right.
During this deployment, the airlift squadron operated as a cohesive team.
It is probably because of their dedication to the mission. Instead of watching movies, they are talking about something applicable to flying, Fuller said. I have never seen that before. That is what has helped them to stay focused. They are tight knit and devoted to the mission. I am very impressed with the squadron out here.