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Hill Reservists deploy, revolutionize processes

Senior Airman Sarah Hansen, 67th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, uses a forklift to pick up cargo pallets to load into the cargo area of a C-130. Airman Hansen is a reservist deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Senior Airman Sarah Hansen, 67th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, uses a forklift to pick up cargo pallets to load into the cargo area of a C-130. Airman Hansen is a reservist deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Senior Airman Sarah Hansen (middle), 67th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, helps other members of her squadron push pallets from the loader into the cargo area of a C-130. Airman Hansen is a reservist deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Senior Airman Sarah Hansen (middle), 67th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron, helps other members of her squadron push pallets from the loader into the cargo area of a C-130. Airman Hansen is a reservist deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Traditionally, reservists deploy to fill requirements one to two members at a time. It's unusual for an entire reserve squadron to mobilize and deploy as a unit, but after a year of planning, the 67th Aerial Port Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, did just that.

The squadron, led by Lt. Col. Mark Pantone, had planned this deployment since June of 2006 and since their arrival in May, they revolutionized the movement and storage of cargo on the flightline at Bagram.

"In June of last year, we began planning for this deployment," said Col. Pantone. "By August, we were asking for volunteers within the squadron to fill the positions. By October, we had all the volunteers in."

Deploying as a unit, versus deploying individually, had its advantages for some of the Airmen in the squadron.

"For one, you're among friends," said Senior Airman Sarah Hansen, aerial transportation specialist. "From a reservist standpoint, we train, train, train all the time back home. It's been great to get out and do the job."

For a few members of the squadron, doing the job entailed working with the civilian commercial airlift here. A five person team was assembled for the specific function of facilitating the commercial airlift cargo.

"We work the STOL, Short Takeoff and Landing. We're our own mini aerial port," said Staff Sgt. Gary Gardener, 67th Aerial Port Squadron. "We do load planning, passenger handling. Ramp and cargo are all one function so we all have to know each other's job."

While a C-130 may take up to 36,000 pounds of cargo, the smaller, civilian airlift take far less, making the cargo loading a challenge at times.

"Sometimes, these guys don't know until a pilot gets down that they can only take a small amount of cargo," said Sergeant Gardner. "There have been instances where we have loaded a thousand pounds of mail to be delivered by hand."

"This process has had huge direct cost savings to the government," said Colonel Pantone. "Not to mention getting things downrange to the Forward Operating Bases, getting them the things that they need in a timely manner."

Aside from learning new and different aspects of the job, the squadron also addressed concerns with the cargo storage facility.

"We had cargo that had been in the cargo yard for months, even years. The cargo yard was not a secured area when we got here. Anyone could come walking through," said Senior Master Sgt. Dale Johnston, 67th Aerial Port Squadron flight chief. "Since we've been here, we built a secure fence around the yard, streamlined our cargo processes and brought things back in line with [Air Mobility Command] guidelines."

The restructuring of the cargo yard wasn't the only improvements the squadron had made during its tour.

"We also improved our relationships with the Army and our civilian contractor counterparts," said Sergeant Johnston. "We downloaded the first U.S. commercial aircraft, minimizing the burden on Air Force aircraft."

"We're a 24/7 operation. If it goes on or off an AMC aircraft, we put it there," said Col. Pantone. "We're all over the place out here."

The strides made by the squadron, both in their job performance and infrastructure improvement, had left an impression on its leadership.

"These guys have got amazing resolve. I think that the level of performance of the Airmen in the squadron have made them indistinguishable from our active duty and guard counterparts," said Sergeant Johnston.

"Watching these Airmen grow, gain confidence and experience has been great," said Colonel Pantone. "I'm very proud of them."

"If you raise your expectations, people will rise to the occasion to meet them and these Airmen have definitely done that. With strong NCOs and people willing to step up to the plate and serve their country, I'm just continually amazed to see these Airmen rise to the occasion."