ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait --
“Safety, you ask any of my Airmen here, first word out of my mouth is going to be safety first. Safe, by the book, and then on time. In that order,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Silkworth, superintendent of the Aerial Port Flight, 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.
The Aerial Port Flight, also known as “Port Dawgs,” is responsible for all management and movement of passengers and cargo transported through airlift.
Unlike the defined borders at U.S. ports, this base’s flight line is versatile, allowing flexibility to mission demand.
“I can surge; I can get smaller if I need to,” said Silkworth, who deployed from the 436th Airlift Wing in Dover, Delaware, and has been contributing to the mission for 23 years. “Let's say we are moving a large piece of equipment. I can adjust and cater to that mission's needs.”
Examples of cargo include everything from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System trucks, Abrams tanks, hazards, small arms to food.
Airmen keep track of each cargo mission at the Air Terminal Operations Center, who then channel vital mission requirements to one of six functional dispatch offices based on mission need.
“I pretty much just make sure that [we’re tracking] all our missions and that all our guys know what's going on for the day,” said Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Batoon, ramp services technician, Aerial Port Flight, 386th ELRS.
Airmen also work on the flight line operating forklifts and K-loaders, vehicles with a flat platform used to move cargo to and from an aircraft with the help of built-in rollers or wheels.
“I am responsible for the safety of my Airmen,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Kunc, ramp supervisor, assigned to the Aerial Port Flight, 386th ELRS. “We check out our vehicles. Look at our mission board. If we have missions coming in three hours prior, we stage it. It just really depends on the timing of the mission, what kind of mission it is. If we have hot pallets at the regular cargo that [also plays] a factor.”
Between Jan. 2021 to Jan. 2022 the Aerial Port Flight processed an impressive 83,022 passengers, moved 61,683 tons of cargo, and serviced 8,326 aircraft.
The operational complexity of cargo missions varies daily, creating unique challenges and opportunities for ingenuity to solve problems.
Complexities sometimes occur with heavy cargo, such as moving Abram tanks. In one instance, the Aerial Port Flight ensured the user had calculated the tank’s weight correctly and engineered a way to get the tank on the aircraft.
“Sometimes our job is not black and white, and it's not scripted,” said Silkworth.
The Aerial Port Flight is operating as a total force team with about 60% reservists and 40% active duty. Silkworth said that this is an active operating training environment, which is very dangerous.
With all the moving parts, safety and following the rules are crucial components of executing the mission.
“It's very stringent,” said Silkworth. “Our Airmen do a really good job of educating our customers and enforcing those requirements, and making sure [the cargo] is 100% safe.”
Aircraft arriving and departing on time is also imperative for the mission.
Silkworth has had assignments where he was on the receiving side. He said he knows what it feels like to desperately need and receive equipment.
“Sometimes it can be heartbreaking, because you hear the customer story,” said Silkworth. “Just the other day we're moving ammunition into [undisclosed location], and those soldiers were getting shot at. They needed that ammunition, and you can feel it. You can feel the emotion. And knowing that we were able to satisfy that request and help those soldiers out, at the end of the day, I think that's what it's all about.”