Reaping the seeds sewn through training

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- There's nothing more satisfying than seeing the fruits of your labor, and that is exactly what Tech. Sgt. Antonio Strong and I have been able to do and see since deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. 

Currently assigned to the 728th AMS' Air Terminal Operations Center, or ATOC, we work hand-in-hand with command and control and the maintenance operations center. We are responsible for oversight of all terminal operations - from aerial port training to aircraft operations. And a busy operation it is. 

As the cargo hub for Operation Iraqi Freedom operations, the aerial port team here handles 72 percent of all cargo entering Iraq - up to 220 short tons and 110 pallets daily. What is most rewarding is seeing first-hand how the training received at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center on Fort Dix, N.J., directly contributes to the success of this mission. 

For instance, through a combination of Web-based training and qualification training packages developed by the USAF EC's Mobility Operations School, aerial port training for newly-assigned Airmen has been reduced from two weeks to three days. Not only does this translate into significant manpower and money savings, but since 40 percent of the squadron is made up of deployed personnel, it allows individual work centers greater flexibility. 

Additionally, the quality and effectiveness of the training has increased. 

"Since we began the new program, the feedback from the trainees has been incredible," said Staff Sgt. Sayward Pierce, squadron training monitor for the 728th. "Not only have we noticed an increased retention rate in the material, but the trainees are happy to get into their work centers and get to work." 

One of the greatest impacts on operations has been the recent addition of the Aerial Port Expeditor, APEX, Program. The Mobility Operations School, in concert with Air Mobility Command Headquarters, spent the better part of two years developing the contingency operations plan and formal training that allows aerial porters to on-load and off-load all types of cargo without the presence of a loadmaster on C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. 

The APEX Program has now been successfully used for nearly a year; however, Incirlik is the test-bed and first to employ APEX at a mobilized location. Early results are impressive. Not only has it allowed better utilization of aerial port assets, but it has also completely eliminated the need for duty loadmasters thus saving crew time and allowing loadmasters to be where they are needed most - in the air. In just over three weeks, more than 120 APEX missions, carrying 3,000 short tons of cargo, have been successfully launched and delivered to the warfighter. 

There are many other examples where I have seen USAF EC's training put into action - from management justifying and competing for fall-out money and the way different work centers interact with each other to a joint inspection class being conducted. All of these directly contribute to the success of this operation and its mission to fight the war on terror. 

This training, along with advice I received from a wise lieutenant colonel about the effectiveness of taking the time to sit for a cup of tea, has served me well. Everything was put into perspective for me, and I am constantly reminded how precious life is when one of our weekly 747s drop off a full load of cargo and then continues its mission down range. 

When I tell my son why I missed our first walk-to-school in four years -- the mission here and this deployment is what I will tell him about. It's not easy being away from family and friends, missing birthdays, anniversaries and the first-day of school, but as I said in the beginning, there is nothing better than seeing the fruits of your labor. 

So, if you've ever wondered if places like the USAF EC are making a difference, I can tell you first-hand it is. Training is the backbone of this operation and its success.

(Note: Master Sgt. Steve Minard serves as the superintendent of the Mobility Operation School's Air Transportation Branch at the USAF EC. Tech. Sgt. Antonio Strong, serving in Incirlik with Sergeant Minard, is also from the USAF EC's MOS.)