An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Your Ticket to the AOR: Aerial Porters Welcome You to ASAB

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Daniel Martinez
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

As of this summer, more than 55,000 service members and civilians have made their way to and from Ali Al Salem – the busiest port in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations. Ensuring safe and vital passenger transportation and cargo movement is just one critical role performed by aerial porters.

The 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s aerial porters, also known as “Port Dawgs,” are at the heart of passenger transit, an important function in a much bigger logistical mechanism. While deploying service members may recognize the transit area as a military version of a commercial airport terminal, the work and coordination behind the scenes is anything but ordinary.

“Essentially we are Port Dawgs – usually first in and last out because we're getting the aircraft here,” said Tech. Sgt. Susan Jenkins, 386th ELRS NCO-in-charge of passenger operations, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, California. “We're getting the people here and the equipment to do the job and the same when leaving.”

The Airmen who work behind the counter at the passenger terminal make flight announcements, update travelers of potential flight schedule changes or boarding times, assign boarding passes and provide general customer service to inbound or outbound military or civilian travelers. However, they aren’t necessarily stuck working in front of a computer all the time on any given day.

“Someone may be scheduled to work the front desk, but if there's going to be multiple flights coming in, you could leave the desk to drive a bus for a little bit to pick up people from one or two aircraft,” said Senior Airman Candace Schmitz, 386th ELRS air transportation specialist, also deployed from Travis AFB. “Nobody would be here and be able to maneuver around theater if it weren’t for our team.”

Observing Schmitz during her shift one morning unveiled the hectic world of an aerial porter. Within a stretch of a couple of hours she scanned passengers’ baggage, drove a bus load of U.S. Army Soldiers to their connecting flight, packed cargo onto a Canadian air force C-130J, loaded and strapped baggage onto a pallet for transport and tracked inbound flights to manage her workload expectations. Some of these tasks she did alone, while others involved the combined efforts of her team.

Thirty passenger terminal Airmen make up a portion of the 125-member strong team that comprises the entirety of the Aerial Port Flight. Nearly 60 Airmen are assigned to cargo and ramp teams. Since July, Aerial Port Flight teams contributed to moving more than 22,000 tons of cargo, building 15,000 pallets, carrying approximately 38 tons of mail while participating in over 3,000 total missions. This is only a fraction of what they’ve accomplished and an indication of why Ali Al Salem is known as the busiest port in the region. Work days are long but the team takes it in stride.

“It’s like a 12 or 13 hour work day, but I wouldn’t say we’re undermanned, we’re just always busy,” Schmitz said. “It’s not always serious, we do have a lot of fun. We try to keep morale up, play music in the pallet yard as we build up baggage pallets and dance around.”

A recent passenger movement in the terminal saw upwards of approximately 500 transitioning service members from an area of conflict. As Port Dawgs facilitate troop movements to and from friendly and hostile areas, the team finds ways to try to make their transition a little more positive. Schmitz organized an area in the terminal where traveling service members can grab small amenities, such as snacks, toothbrushes, books, and more as they travel.

“I try to be way more nice, personable and friendly, especially with the younger members where you can tell they’re nervous,” Schmitz said.

“We’ve had people we processed through here that never came back,” Jenkins added. “It’s humbling from my perspective to see all these troops, especially the really young ones who come through … We’re not just here to do a job, but this could be the last normalcy they get for a while.”