I pick things up, I put them down--in planes

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead
  • 103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Neither rain, sleet, nor dark of night will keep these Port Dawgs from their calling and on Saturday, Dec 7, 2013, you could add the whipping wind and chilling cold to that list. That day, the Port Dawgs, air transportation craftsmen as they are known here at Bradley Air National Guard Base, threw their own comfort into that chilly air and practiced loading and unloading the Flying Yankee C-130s. Picking things up and putting them on a plane is a task both difficult and rewarding.

This training consisted of what the non-commissioned officer in charge of the small air terminal, Master Sgt. Christopher Fanelli, referred to as sequencing. Sequencing is the process of preparing cargo for upload to an aircraft and distributing the load appropriately so the weight is balanced across the aircraft. The aerial porters complete this training with what they call a "pet rock," an 8,800-pound concrete block anchored to a pallet.

These pet rocks are picked up with a forklift and transferred to a K-Loader, then loaded into the aircraft--not an easy task according to Fanelli.

"A lot of that MHE [material handling equipment] out there like the K-loaders have some idiosyncrasies and are unique in their own way--and the only way to get proficient in it is to keep using it. The more you use it the more comfortable you are with it and the more accurate you are in loading planes," Fanelli said.

The job requires a great deal of attention to detail and when you combine the difficulty of the task with various factors such as weather, the pressure can really pile on, said Fanelli.
"Everybody wants to work ramp, which is the section of the aerial port that loads and unloads all of the planes; that's where the rubber meets the road. You get to see all of the equipment coming through the Air Force. We're loading tanks and cannons, bags and regular mail. The downside to that is the negative degree temperatures, snow, sleet, rain or the hottest of temperatures in the desert--you're out in the elements and there is pretty much nothing that's going to stop you from being out there," said Fanelli.

Despite the difficulty of the job, there is some satisfaction from a job well done.
"Down in Dover, we were working on the night shift and we see the sun come up in the morning, you'd be tired getting out at around 6:30 or 7:00 working for 12 hours...the sun would come up over the apron with all of the planes--it was nice," said Senior Airman Jack Girnius, an air transportation craftsmen with the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron.
Now, with the C-130's here at Bradley, that feeling is a little closer to home.

"On the ramp--it's exciting, because you're there. You're out there and you're doing it, you're getting the mission done and you're seeing the stuff take off," said Senior Airman Kevin Leist, air transportation craftsmen, 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron.

For a brief moment though, the world of the Port Dawg seemed to hang by a thread. Both Leist and Girnius joined the Connecticut National Guard to be air transportation craftsmen and both remembered early on when they were coming to drill with only the idea of a plane and that idea jumping from C-27 to MC-12 and finally to C-130.
"At one point, we were scared we would lose our jobs...but one day the iron actually hit the ramp and that was a big change," said Leist.
Since the standing up of the aerial port, the Port Dawgs have had to deploy to other active-duty bases to receive their seasoning days and get the required training they need for day-to-day operations. But now with the combination of the C-130, the pet rock and the K-loader, the aerial porters are able to get refresher training right here at home and can see the fast-approaching future of loading and unloading planes on their own ramp.

"It's a real big deal for us," said Fanelli. "This is only the second time we've touched this plane. Two months ago we got to load our first plane at Bradley, one of our own after five years of waiting and training."