News: Aerial port brings training back to basics
Story by Staff Sgt. Thomas Doscher
By Staff Sgt. Vincent Borden
386th Air Expeditionary Wing
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norman Schwartz provided some inspiration to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port section in the way of a new training program designed to refresh Airmen on the core skill sets of their job duties.
The program, which focuses on bringing task fundamentals "back to the basics," encapsulates the words of General Schwartz in the way he wants to tackle specific programs around the Air Force. The five-day refresher course goes over some of the essentials of the aerial port trade and includes instruction on safety, vehicle driving technique and vehicle checkout procedures, along with many other items.
"The mission of aerial port is huge," said Staff Sgt. Brian Dowdy, 386th ELRS lead instructor, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. He's been in the aerial port career field for seven years. "We're involved in anything having to do with loading and unloading aircraft, whether it's special handling or passengers, pallets and cargo.
"Our flight is pretty big as well, and every Airman here is taking this course," Sergeant Dowdy said.
The training begins in the classroom, with slideshows going over basic safety guidelines and checks on the flightline. From there, training is broken down into more specific procedures covering numerous vehicles and equipment.
For instance, Staff Sgt. Trevor Barnett's K-Loader course mirrors that in the equipment's manual.
"We've got 28 cones set up over an area that's 142 feet by 362 feet," Sergeant Barnett said. He is deployed from Dover AFB, Del. "The goal is to strategically navigate them. They'll run the course again for more practice if they need to."
The Wayland, Iowa native has logged 500 hours in the vehicle.
Equipment experts in the workcenter led certain sections of the training of some of the many vehicles aerial port Airmen use on a daily basis. There's the Lavatory Servicing Truck and the Next Generation Small Loader, a diesel-powered loading vehicle with a 25,000 pound capacity. There's also the 10K AT forklift, a vehicle that sees just as much action as the K-Loader, the flightline workhorse.
Staff Sgt. Robert Charron felt like his training in the vehicle was helpful; he built the core of the material around the foundation of safety precautions. Some of the points he went over included knowing your surroundings and spotting to an aircraft.
Having the equipment experts teach on each individual piece allows aerial port Airmen to hear from the best around. The instructors are also able to point out deficiencies or promote new techniques things that will strengthen their skills sets and abilities.
Capt. Ben Walker said he thinks the "back to the basics" concept works for a variety of reasons, and is enthusiastic to see its effect. As the officer in charge of the aerial port mission, his responsibilities include accomplishing mission success, as well as maintaining an excellent record of safety. But those goals don't usurp his overall concern for the Airmen under his command. Rather, they add to it.
"Safety is extremely important, especially for aerial port because we operate a lot of heavy machinery," said Walker, deployed from Tinker AFB, Okla. "I want to make sure no one gets hurt out here, and everyone goes home with ten fingers and ten toes. I want to make sure they're taken care of."
The course aims to do that with its comprehensive classroom lectures and its hands on training. aerial port Airman are looking forward to passing the training down to the next set of technicians that will come to replace them, some as early as November, so that they can perform at their highest level while supporting the mission of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.
"The course is very effective," Dowdy said. "The refocus on safety opens people's eyes to what they're doing and how they're doing it, and I'm very happy with the outcome. And our leadership has been nothing but supportive."
Against the backdrop of the training sessions, the rows and rows of equipment and trucks and the instructors outside of the workcenter, Airman 1st Class Ryan Erdman pulls up to the back of a C-130 aircraft in a 10K AT forklift with a baggage pallet on the forks. Passengers on the aircraft are buckled up in front of him, but he doesn't see them as he slowly inches forward; instead, his eyes are locked on the Airmen walking beside the forklift, pointing to the left and right, and motioning forward.
Erdman never takes his eyes off his spotter, who directs him perfectly into the back of the aircraft, inches from those on board, and has him drop the pallet off in the center before loadmasters begin to buckle it down. There' s no applause. No feeling of triumph or even a pause for reflection on a job well done. It's routine. Basic. But flawless, nonetheless.
Erdman, who is deployed from Travis AFB, Calif., said the course reinforced everything he had learned from technical training and driving the equipment out on the flightline.
"You've got to trust your spotter," said Erdman, in a matter of fact way that sounds as if he's been doing it for years. He recently competed the 10K AT part of the course. "Sometimes out here with [the operations tempo], you lose touch with the basics. And sometimes you need to be brought back to the way things are supposed to be done. The course did that."