In response to the continuing need for hurricane relief support, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron Airmen contributed to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord response Monday by prepping more than 350,000 pounds of cargo and equipment bound for Puerto Rico.
This is the first cargo load at McChord Field in response to relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, but aerial porters are always ready.
“We advance and receive cargo and passengers all over the world via military airlift,” said Tech. Sgt. Talitha Banks, 62nd APS cargo operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “From exercises, humanitarian relief, Army movements, deployment requirements — whatever task we’re given, we dominate it.”
The initial load of relief cargo arrived at the joint inspection area in an Army convoy of vehicles and equipment from the 62nd Medical Brigade’s 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support and the 575th Medical Company, 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion. The inspection process would end up prepping five chalks (C-17 Globemaster III aircraft loads) totaling more than 350,000 pounds (175 short tons) and lasting well into the evening.
Aerial porters are no stranger to providing timely, on-demand service to customers, but being able to directly support Federal Emergency Management Agency lead humanitarian relief was especially rewarding.
“We had so many young people out there who have never (supported) a relief (mission) — and thank God it’s rare — but they understood what they were doing and why they were doing it and it showed in their work,” Banks said. “The sense of urgency, the sense of pride, the sense of quality just beamed from them.”
Banks’ sentiment was echoed from others in the unit. Although thankful the devastation caused by one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in decades is a rare event, grateful for the opportunity to assist.
“It makes me feel really good to be able to help out with relief efforts,” said Airman 1st Class Samantha Calter, an aerial port rigger stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., who is training at JBLM as part of upgrade training. “I told my friend from (basic training) I would be helping with this today and she was very happy; her entire family is in Puerto Rico.”
The work that the 62nd Aerial Port Airmen accomplish on a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year basis is not without its challenges.
All cargo must go through the joint inspection process before being readied to load onto aircraft.
“The user who has cargo to be moved with the 62nd APS team complete the joint inspection,” said Robert Izzett, 62nd APS hazardous material inspector. “Anytime there is air cargo that needs to be airlifted, it has to go through the joint inspection process; in that process we have to make sure, if it’s a vehicle or any type of hazardous material, that it meets airlift safety requirements.”
Despite the long hours and demanding workload, the aerial porters seemed motivated until the very end.
“We’re making history — being a part of it,” Izzett said. “This is the first mission here from the 62nd APS with several more scheduled over the next couple of days.”
Taking part in making history and in making significant contributions to the Air Force and the Department of Defense missions is just a byproduct of aerial porters’ mission as enablers to global reach and global air mobility.
“Throughout my entire career I’ve put hands on — hands on the warfighter, hands on food, hands on relief cargo, hands on ammo going to the warfighter — and then you see the (impact) and you can say ‘I did that,’ ‘I put that guy or unit on the plane,’ ‘I had a part of that,’” Banks said. “For humanitarian relief, we’re there to take care of the people in need; it’s a huge part of the proud — the pride that you see in a Port Dawg.”