News: Army Reserve helps close OEF gateway
Story by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan – The sun has yet to rise in Manas, but already dozens of sleepy-eyed, scruffy-faced service members and contractors grab their carry-on bags and file off the tail end of a C-17 transport plane. Smelling like a mix of yesterday’s sweat and jet fuel, the unwashed mass, sleepwalk onto white buses that take them from the landing strip of Manas Air Base, to the Joint Movement Control Center (JMCC) for their transient briefings. The buses pass through the worn down gates into Manas where the empty streets reflect a suburban cul-de-sac rather than a military base.
Dozens of conversations are carried on as Soldiers and airmen excitedly await the moment they can eat their next meal, shave or take their next shower.
This scene has been carried out daily for the last 12 years at Manas Air Base. Formerly named Ganci Air Base, Manas has served as a deployment/re-deployment transient gateway into and out of theater operations in Afghanistan.
The Army and coalition transient operations are monitored by two individuals: Lt. Col. Robert J. Neeley, Army Central liaison officer command cell officer-in-charge, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and Sgt. Maj. Thomas M. Schultz, ARCENT liaison officer command cell noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, 143d ESC. Neeley and Schultz, reserve Soldiers, oversee all Army personnel in Manas, and manage & coordinate deploying and redeploying units going to and from Afghanistan. Neeley is employed full-time as an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) Officer, 143d ESC and Schultz works as a Field Service Engineer for Northrup Grumman when not deployed.
“The Army mission here at Manas is primarily focused on joint RSO, which is reception, staging and onward movement of Army and coalition forces,” said Neeley.
Each service is represented at Manas as the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines each provide unique services. Specifically, the Army provides assistance to all Army personnel, as well as most coalition forces that pass through here.
“Sergeant Major Schultz and I are mission command for all of the Army elements here on Manas, right now we are over 80 personnel, it fluctuates,” said Neeley.
Army operations on Manas comprise active duty, National Guard and reserve Soldiers all with different backgrounds and skillsets. Reserve Soldiers have the large task of running 24/7 custom operations for all deploying and re-deploying service members, contractors and civilians.
“Under us we have the JMCC [Joint Movement Control Center] Soldiers who process everyone who comes in and out. We have the plate’s warehouse Soldiers, and custom’s Soldiers who deal with re-deploying service members back to the states or any of coalition forces going through. They go through the same screening process you would go through in any airport in the United States,” said Schultz.
“We have a career counselor on the installation,” said Schultz. “They take care of any extensions or re-enlistments that transients need assistance with.” “We also have a veterinary detachment. They care for the working dogs, bomb sniffing dogs.”
Neeley and Schultz conduct Mayor’s Walks regularly through-out the transient housing in Manas, to ensure the transient tents have working smoke detectors, lighting and sufficient heat for the Kyrgyzstan climate.
“It’s a health and welfare inspection, we only go through the transient billets and we’re looking for safety violations; light bulbs out, smoke detectors disabled and daisy chained power strips which are fire hazards. We’re trying to prevent loss of life,” said Schultz.
The biggest hurdle at transient center Manas falls at the feet of Neeley and Schultz as they oversee almost every coalition force passing through.
“There are some challenges that are inherent just because of different cultural differences and language barriers,” said Neeley. “Nothing that is problematic. It’s just an unusual experience to deal with.”
Even with the challenges Neeley finds his role fulfilling.
“We’re basically getting our hands on everybody that is coming in and out of Afghanistan . . . we try and make it as smooth and painless as possible. It is very rewarding,” said Neeley. “The elements that we have here from the Army Reserve, National Guard and active component work together seamlessly. It’s a great team.”
As the only country in the world to host both a U.S. and Russian base simultaneously, Kyrgyzstan will soon lose that unique distinction in spring 2014 when the U.S. presence there is no longer required due to U.S. re-deployment from Afghanistan.
“Depending on the flow, between 10 thousand and 20 thousand Soldiers and service members come through here in a week,” said Neeley. “We will start seeing it swing toward re-deployers as we execute the president’s plan for drawdown in Afghanistan.
The fewer numbers coming through Manas is apparent.
“Our numbers have gone down because they have torn down about 30 tents in the past month or so, said Schultz.
With operations still ongoing in Afghanistan until late 2014, transients will be rerouted elsewhere.
“The mission will transfer over to a base in Romania,” said Neeley. “The final personnel transients in Afghanistan will be done by a group in Romania.”
Neeley gives some advice to the soldiers and service members taking over the mission in Romania.
“Our biggest takeaway is be involved,” said Neeley. “It’s a very complex mission that the people here make look simple. If you’re involved and know what’s going on, you can get in front of potential issues.”
Originally, Manas was named after fallen New York Fire Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., who died in the line of duty during 9/11. Although the Air Force dropped the name to adhere to a longstanding rule that no installation will be named after civilians, Ganci’s influence is still felt on post as service members and contractors spend most nights at Pete’s Place, a tavern/morale and welfare entertainment center located at the heart of the base.
Manas’ unique history has left fond memories for a majority of service members who have warmed to its cool climate with the occasional drink at Pete’s. Only time will tell if the emerging facilities in Romania will evoke similar emotions.