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Aerial porters take experience on deployment

Reserve Airmen will be spread throughout three countries

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(446th AW PA) - Travel plans are on the books for 40 percent of the 86th Aerial Port Squadron later this summer. Only these plans are not for summer vacation. These Reservists will be deploying on an air expeditionary force rotation.

"We're currently on a two-year rotation," said Capt. Jim Voytilla, 86th APS operations officer. "During the last two AEF rotations, AFRC (Air Force Reserve Command) has mobilized about 40 percent of our people"

This year's commitment is due starting in August. Reservists from the aerial port will deployed to various locations in Southwest Asia.

"Our first troops start to leave in August and the rest will depart through the end of the year," said Voytilla. "We're filling 67 enlisted slots and three officer slots. We'll be in Afghanistan, Oman and Kyrgyzstan, with the largest bunch going to Afghanistan. It should be some good tours."

This AEF rotation will the first one requiring the Reservists to fulfill the six-month requirement.

No strangers to deployments, the aerial porters have consistently volunteered for shorter deployments to Southwest Asia, as well as volunteered their time for the Air Mobility Command Rodeo last July and the upcoming Operational Readiness Inspection in October, as well as a few smaller deployments.

"Every time you look at the wing deployment slide (in meetings), the 86th has consistently had about a 10 percent deployment rate," said Voytilla.

This year AEF and ORI directly compete for available bodies. But, according to Voytilla, this year's tasking for the ORI is lower than previous readiness inspections, which makes it possible for the squadron to support both events.

The squadron, as an aerial port, serves as the point of embarkation and debarkation at any location to which they deploy. While serving in Southwest Asia, they will be heavily involved in the continuing redeployment of forces from Afghanistan.

"And as you see in the news, they are doing the drawdown and we are the path to that drawdown," said Voytilla. "We handle the passengers and the cargo into and out of the AOR (area of responsibility) every step of the way. Being that these people are deploying right to forward operating bases, they're the tip of the sword. They comprise the air terminal for the soldiers coming in and the soldiers going home.

"During these times of transition, they will be doing workloads in their six-month tour managing passengers and cargo in orders of magnitude greater than what we would see at McChord in a full year. It is just an incredible pace they have to keep up," said Voytilla.

Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Dietz, 86th APS Air Transportation Manager, will be the Oman deployed team chief.

"Half the people deploying to Oman were on the last deployment. Working six days on, one day off, 12 to14 hours a day and living in tents is not the best of living conditions," he said. "But still, they volunteer because there is a job to do and it needs to be done by someone; why not the best aerial port squadron in AFRC?"

According to the squadron operations officer, the pace overseas will really be quite a challenge in stamina.

"We have to send them over there active-duty ready. There is little transition time, no time for remedial training; you're stepping off the airplane, the people you're replacing are virtually stepping on, and you're in play," Voytilla explained.

Being "active-duty ready" is easier for these McChord Field Reservists because of the squadron's partnership with the 62nd Airlift Wing and the 627th Air Base Group.

"We bring a level of competency that is not common to a lot of Reserve aerial port squadrons because we are collocated with and share resources with our active-duty counterparts," said Voytilla. "A lot of the Reserve squadrons don't have the access to the facilities and equipment we have because we are in an Associate wing."

While many Reserve aerial ports have limited training opportunities and only really get significant training on their annual tour, the 86th APS Airmen are able to keep up their proficiency every month on the equipment available here and the activity level of the McChord port.

With all the past deployments, the extra efforts for each staff assistance visit, each compliance inspection and logistics compliance assessment program that have been constant during the past few years, the command staff of the 86th APS was concerned about asking more of this "exceptional group of aerial porters" that have been heavily tasked for the past two years.

"They are a vital part of the link and they realize that. Not only did we get 70 (volunteers), we got 80 volunteers. So we have a healthy pool of backups," said Voytilla.

Photo: Tech. Sgt. Mark Smith, a Reservist with the 86th Aerial Port Squadron at McChord Field, right, supervises the upload of Navy equipment onto a C-17 during a joint training event at the base in March 2012. Experience like this is what about 70 Reserve aerial porters will take with them when they deploy to Southwest Asia later this summer. /U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Paredes

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