Connecticut air transportation specialists essential to tactical airlift mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker & Airman 1st Class Chanhda Ly
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

The Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron provides a wide range of services that benefit every organization at Bradley Air National Guard Base. At the Small Air Terminal, air transportation specialists, also known as “Port Dawgs,” play a crucial role in getting the 103rd Airlift Wing’s mission off the ground.

“Day-to-day, our main focus is unilateral aircrew training, which is everything the aircrews as a whole need to stay qualified on the C-130 as far as tactical missions go,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Fanelli, 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron air terminal operations chief. “That includes airdrops, loading planes while all four engines are running, and combat offloads on the ramp.”

Port Dawgs assemble a variety of cargo pallets, including low cost low altitude (LCLA), container delivery system (CDS), and heavy pallets. The smallest of these, LCLA, consists of a 300-pound box of sand attached to a personnel parachute, and simulates a small resupply load delivered to a forward operating base.

“The LCLA was designed so that we can drop directly onto the base as opposed to personnel on the ground having to go outside the fence to recover a larger CDS bundle,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Amato, 103rd Operations Group evaluator loadmaster. “It motivated the airdrop world to drop something with minimum time and high accuracy.”

Bradley’s air transportation specialists will put together loads as heavy as 3,800 pounds to simulate higher altitude drops with heavier equipment such as a Humvee.

In combat offload situations, aircraft will land in either austere environments or locations that are so remote, there is no offload equipment available. Usually these missions involve essential cargo that cannot be airdropped. In the process known as Method A, the aircrew will land and leave the engines running, open the back door, unhook the cargo, then rapidly take off, causing the cargo to drop out of the aircraft.

Alternatively, in Method B, a pallet containing fragile cargo is directly transferred from the aircraft onto offload equipment by the aircraft slowly moving forward.

Local flights happen frequently both day and night, so drill-status Guardsmen with the aerial port get several additional opportunities beyond drill weekends to sharpen their crucial training.

“You’re looking at a full-time crew of seven including our temporary technicians, so we rely very heavily on our Guardsmen for everything we do,” said Fanelli. “In any given year they pull about a combined 500 extra days in addition to their regular 30 individual annual training days to support day-to-day operations.”

Attention to detail is paramount for these Airmen in supporting the flying mission at Bradley.

“We have to take our mission very seriously,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Mead, 103rd LRS Non-commissioned Officer of Information Control. “We have to be efficient, we have to get in there and do our job, and we have to do it the right way every time we practice it.”

The aerial port’s role in mission success has helped build a positive working relationship between them and the aircrews from the 103rd Operations Group, said Fanelli.

“It opens up a clear line of communication between our Airmen and the loadmasters where there’s no fear of asking a question,” said Fanelli. “Each person understands the importance of the small details in the other’s role.”

Aerial port members moved into Bradley’s new Small Air Terminal in May, allowing for improved training and focus on mission-readiness to further expand their capabilities to fit the needs of the Air Force.

“We’ll soon be hosting two Air Mobility Command-affiliated courses for the first time,” said Tech. Sgt. Dan Meskell, 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron air transportation craftsman. “We won’t need to send so many people elsewhere to train and we can have AMC instructors and other units come here. Hopefully we can make it an annual event where we’re showcasing the 103rd.”

Senior Airman Sean Manierre, 103rd LRS air transportation specialist, is a drill-status guardsmen who works as a software engineer outside of the Air National Guard. He says the many training opportunities have prepared him to serve in an operational role.

“If we were deployed right now, I would feel fully comfortable to jump right in,” said Manierre. “Although we are in the Guard, when we show up we can do the job just like anyone else.”

In a deployed setting, 103rd aircrews frequently deliver or receive personnel and supplies while engines are running—a process called ERO. Support from the Port Dawgs is critical in training this capability.

“Our people just got back from Kuwait, and on a normal day they would ERO seven or eight times,” Amato said. “It saves a lot of time to leave the engines running which can be critical in a deployed environment.”

With the aerial port and loadmasters frequently working hand-in-hand at home station, there is always appreciation for everyone’s role when the Flying Yankees are tasked with these real world missions.

“Overseas, our aircrews will often be selected for some type of mission, and we get feedback from them that they couldn’t have made that mission happen without the training we helped provide,” said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Leist, 103rd LRS air transportation craftsman. “It’s great to see that what we do makes a difference in the bigger picture.”