Joint Base Balad, Iraq — A dozen Soldiers at Iraq’s busiest flight hub have made rest and recuperation a priority. They spend much of their days sitting in front of a computer and talking on the phone. They track passengers with computer software and maintain communication over the phone with the Air Mobility Division in case, as it commonly happens, flight information changes.
When flights cancel, the personnel accountability team with the 18th Human Resources Company, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) keeps service members on R&R orders updated and requests additional flights and space to get them from Joint Base Balad, Iraq to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait.
“We’ll take the initiative and call AMD and give them an account of how many people are waiting,” said Sgt. 1st Class William Macneil, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the PAT, and a Fayetteville, N.C., native. “We’ll request additional seats. Sometimes if there are flights available on a Sherpa, we’ll coordinate to get them on that.”
The PAT coordinates with a Movement Control Team and four contracted companies to move an average of approximately 200 R&R service members daily.
Service members on R&R make up about 20 percent of the personnel flying to and from JBB.
Macneil said that although the PAT keeps accountability of all military personnel (except for special operations forces), Department of Defense personnel, and contractors arriving or departing the aerial port of debarkation, his team will go the extra step for service members on R&R.
“A lot of the R&R service members have plans,” Macneil said. “They have an anniversary to go to, graduations. They have a cruise to go on with their families. We don’t want to see them frustrated or have to make any cancellations, so if we can get them down there, we’ll make every attempt possible.”
The PAT services six major locations in Iraq for service members going on R&R leave—Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Mosul, Kirkuk, Contingency Operating Base Q-west, Tal Afar and Al Asad Air Base.
“Most of the people who travel on R&R are not from Balad,” Macneil said. “So we give them information on where to go for billeting, United Service Organizations, internet, the local (post exchange), movie theaters and the swimming pool.”
The PAT directs service members to the Air Force’s new All-American Square across the street from the JBB passenger terminal. It has billeting, a USO, a “grab n’ go” eating lounge with flight information displayed on large television screens and a public address system from which flight information and roll call is announced.
“If the PAX terminal is crowded, there’s a holding area across the street to accommodate (the overflow of passengers),” Macneil said.
The PAX terminal was crowded June 6-8 as a dust storm swept through JBB, causing flight cancellations and delays.
We kept passengers informed,” said Spc. Gretchen Rofkar, a personnel accountability specialist for the PAT, and a Port Clinton, Ohio, native.
Rofkar said the PAT contacted AMD and higher headquarters, reporting on how many personnel were waiting for flights in Balad.
It usually takes two days to catch up from the cancelations a sand storm can cause, Rofkar said.