CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -The New York Air National Guard made its mark on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, for almost a year and a half with the presence of New York Air National Guardsmen for three consecutive rotations -- more specifically, three chiefs who each assumed the role of superintendent of the camp’s 651st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Aerial Port Flight.
Chief Master Sgt. Mark Mann, 109th Airlift Wing’s Small Air Terminal superintendent here, deployed in August 2012 to replace Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Wessberg, the 105th AW’s SAT superintendent in Newburgh. Six months later, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Ward, 107th AW’s SAT superintendent in Niagara Falls, relieved Mann.
Wessberg deployed with his unit in March 2012. His team played a major role in training International Security Assistance Force personnel in loading and unloading cargo aircraft at forward operating locations.
They also designed loading and unloading procedures, which reduced air cargo idle time by 45 percent. Higher headquarters inspectors declared the Camp Bastion air cargo operation run by the 105th AW members the best in the area of operations and estimated they saved almost $20 million by reducing backlogs in the cargo handling system. Wessberg’s team received the Chief of Staff Team Excellence Award for their work.
“As the title states, it was truly a team effort from all of our folks, and I’m sure the other chiefs feel the same,” Wessberg said.
“This was my third deployment to Afghanistan, while difficult, it was probably the easiest transition I ever had,” Mann said. “(Chief Wessberg) had set up an aerial port, in a new facility, and established procedures and policies which made it easy to take control and keep the mission running smoothly.”
Mann was deployed with Airmen from the Guard, Reserve and active duty from various different states. During their rotation, the team moved more than 31,000 tons of cargo and assisted in moving more than 34,000 passengers. During an inspection in November, the aerial port was singled out for their outstanding achievements. The flight set a new Air Force Central Command record with the entire Air Terminal
Operations Center team receiving the “Top Performer” award.
In late February 2013, Ward arrived at Camp Bastion with his unit, as well as Guard and active duty Airmen.
“This was my second deployment, first in Afghanistan,” Ward said. “Chief Mann had everything organized, every couple of weeks he sent me information and forms to complete prior to arriving. It was one of the smoothest transitions I have seen. My men were working missions within 24 hours.”
During Ward’s rotation, his team successfully moved 22,000 tons of cargo and assisted in the movement of 24,000 passengers. During that time, Camp Bastion was slated to close, resulting in very little cargo coming in, but a lot going out.
During both Mann and Ward’s rotation, the camp came under attack. During Mann’s rotation it was one of the largest insurgent attacks it the camp’s history. “The next couple of days were very solemn, as some of our U.S. Marines had lost their lives,” Mann said.
The camp came under indirect fire attacks while Ward and his team were there. These were the first aerial attacks the camp had endured. On one attack, a rocket hit just outside the aerial port building, Ward said.
“Luckily no one was seriously injured in the attack,” Ward said. “We had a long night assessing the damage, making work-arounds and ensuring the building and personnel were safe.” Within seven hours of the attack, the aerial porters were back to loading cargo and processing passengers.
Over that year and a half, the deployed aerial port had become one of the most dependable and efficient aerial port units in Afghanistan. And the New York Air National Guard played a large role in making that happen.
“It was an honor to have followed to two dynamic New York chiefs,” Ward said. “They both skillfully paved the way for operation success in the AOR.”
“It was an honor to have served with Chiefs Wessberg and Ward and to have left a New York legacy at Camp Bastion, knowing we made a difference,” Mann said.