News: Retrograde in action
Story by Master Sgt. Benjamin Bloker
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Daniel Hall walked into the air cell room and proclaimed, “I got us a case of Pop-Tarts and they haven’t expired yet!” Finding such items on a base in the middle of retrograde is a big deal. Forward Operating Base Salerno’s dining facility is down to one hot meal a day and there are no stores.
Hall, a Smith Valley, Nev. native, is part of the 19th Movement Control Team, a small squadron of Air Force surface movement controllers and aerial porters tasked with overseeing the vast majority of retrograde operations at FOB Salerno.
The sobering responsibility of being the last team is foremost in everyone’s mind.
“There’s nobody else to make up for what we don’t do...we’re the last,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Gustafson, 19th MCT commander. “We have to account for every person, every bit of cargo.”
A steady flow of C-130 Hercules cargo planes passes through the small dirt landing strip near the Pakistan border to pick up 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of cargo a day. Gustafson, a Spokane, Wash. native, deployed from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., looks to hard work to achieve a strong transition.
“They’re very good at their jobs,” said Gustafson. “Seeing them take such a tough situation and overcome all the challenges everyday to the point where I get people calling down to say your folks are the best we’ve ever worked with, that’s the most rewarding.”
Gustafson also credits teaming with others for success.
“We reach out to other organizations throughout the FOB and Regional Command East for assistance,” Gustafson said. “Without that team we wouldn’t be able to overcome this challenge.”
The attitude of everyone in the office reflects determination to see FOB Salerno, nicknamed “Rocket City” from a history of rocket attacks, transitioned to the Afghan Nation Army.
“When we first got here we heard there was a team coming in behind us to finish this up and that devastated every single one of us,” said Hall, on his first deployment from Travis AFB, Calif. “We all wanted to be part of closing down a base. Getting to see it go from fully functional receding to nothing, is a pretty cool experience.”