Air Mobility starts and ends on the ground, entrusted in the hands of an Air Force Air Transportation Specialist. Port Dawgs across the globe are on point every day making rapid global mobility a reality for our nation. From its Army beginnings as Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 967 to today’s 2T2X1, those serving today draw great strength from the rich legacy left by a generation of selfless Airmen that set the standard for excellence in meeting national security objectives. From combat support operations to humanitarian and disaster relief operations, the unsung heroes of the air transportation community safely move personnel and cargo through an expansive global network, ensuring that the right effect is delivered to the right place at the right time. The amazing total force members of this unique career field represent a critical component in a responsive and reliable airlift system that sustains United States national security.
LEADERSHIP, JOB PERFORMANCE, AND NOTEWORTHY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
CMSgt William Powell (USAF Ret):
In 1969, A1C Powell was solely responsible for all special handling cargo moving through the Hue Phu Bai airport in support of the 101st Airborne Division in South Vietnam. During that period, he oversaw the movement of munitions, dangerous cargo, as well as the transport of all human remains. Airman Powell single-handedly managed the dignified transfer of numerous casualties as a result of the prolonged and bloody battle that the 101st Airborne Division fought at Hamburger Hill. In 1984, then SMSgt Powell was selected as the Senior Transportation NCO of the Year for Military Airlift Command (MAC), served as a Malcolm Baldrige Criteria Examiner for the Secretary of the Air Force Unit Quality Award competition, and served as an Illinois State Examiner for the State Quality Award for Excellence. Chief Powell, operating at the Major Command-level, managed contract operations at eight commercial airports, overseeing contracts valued at more than 10.5 million dollars while working with senior leaders to instill a focus on continuous improvement in operational activities. His unrelenting focus on developing and executing policies, procedures, process improvement, and contingency plans for air transportation terminal complexes worldwide proved critical to establishing the global air mobility support system we rely on today.
CMSgt Walter Decker (USAF Ret):
In 1975, SSgt Decker deployed to assist in the evacuation of Vietnamese refugees through Operations BABY LIFT and NEW LIFE. Working over the course of months without a day off, he helped to manifest and load more than 130,000 persons who had been displaced by advancing enemy forces. These refugees were safely evacuated and empowered to resettle and begin a new life. During Team Spirit ’79, then TSgt Decker revised and consolidated multiple load plans to eliminate one B-747 and two C-5s from the planned redeployment airflow, saving the DoD over one million dollars in airlift costs. As the Kunsan Operating Location Chief, he combined host base combat exercises with actual deployments reducing installation readiness training requirements by over 50 percent. In 1986, as the primary Aerial Port planner for Team Spirit ’86, he planned the movement of over 18,000 tons of cargo and over 50,000 troops and passengers to reduce the originally required number of aircraft needed to support the exercise. During Operation DESERT STORM, then Chief Decker deployed to augment Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in Mons, Belgium, as the Chief Planner for all air and sealift movements. In this role, he managed a variety of NATO-provided military airlift assets, contracted AN-124s, and Roll-On/Roll-Off ships used for safe and expeditious movement of cargo and communication systems, including a German I HAWK system which helped maintain security and mission support. By assisting the American augmentation to the Allied Command and Europe Lift Cell (ACE) and its international lift management team, Chief Decker directly influenced history and the future of the NATO support organization. As a result of the success of the ACE Lift Cell, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) successfully designed a Reaction Force comprised of air, land, and maritime forces capable of responding to future mobility challenges.
CMSgt David “Ike” Eisenhuth (USAF Ret):
In 1988, TSgt Eisenhuth was selected as one of the first-ever enlisted “Cargo Bookies” responsible for managing airlift assets in support of USEUCOM and USCENTCOM theater requirements. After the tragic bombing of Pan American flight 103, he was charged with identifying critical airlift resources to support numerous short-notice taskings. This led to the movement of emergency response personnel and equipment to help conduct search and rescue efforts and facilitate the return of victim’s remains from Lockerbie, Scotland to stateside grieving families. During the first Gulf War, MSgt Eisenhuth directed airlift traffic as the United States started the massive build-up of cargo and combat troops. This build-up, in support of Operation DESERT STORM, would go on to become the largest air deployment in the history of the United States Air Force. MSgt Eisenhuth worked directly with the USEUCOM Crisis Action Team to expeditiously deliver combat power measured in more than 15,000 tons of cargo and 60,000 soldiers from Germany to Southwest Asia. In 1994, MSgt Eisenhuth was tasked to deploy to Entebbe, Uganda for Operation SUPPORT HOPE to conduct humanitarian support operations in an effort to stabilize Rwanda’s refugee crisis. He merged members from three different squadrons to ensure the successful airlift of 9,200 tons of relief supplies and 6,000 passengers on more than 1,000 airlift mission supporting non-governmental relief organizations and the UN High Commission on Refugees. In 2001, CMSgt Eisenhuth led the busiest Aerial Port in Air Mobility Command. As Superintendent, 723 Air Mobility Squadron (Ramstein), the linchpin for airlift during the height of Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM, Chief Ike led more than 500 active duty, Air Reserve Component, and civilian personnel. He directed the airworthiness inspection and rapid upload of 2,000 tons of Harvest Eagle and Force Provider bare-base bed-down kits onto 72 C-17s. He also oversaw the State Department effort to feed Afghan refugees by air-dropping 2.4 million meals to starving civilians. His team downloaded more than 1,000 pallets of Humanitarian Daily Rations from 26 B-747 aircraft, delivered them to Army riggers, and subsequently re-loaded them on C-17 aircraft for immediate aerial delivery.
SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF AIR MOBILITY
With every takeoff and landing of an AMC military or contract mission, there is a story of an Air Transportation Specialist, more commonly referred to as a “Port Dawg,” that ensured mission success. Operating from dozens of in-county sites during the Vietnam War, Air Transporters were organized into Combat Mobility Branches (CMB). These small teams enabled a cadre of highly trained and deployable specialists to handle off-station requirements on short notice at mostly undeveloped airfields or austere locations without adequate infrastructure. The success of the CMB model informed the development of Mobile Aerial Port Squadrons (MAPS) that are now an essential element of contingency response forces and critical to our ability to project power around the globe on short notice. Port Dawgs were also instrumental in developing concepts for the En Route Velocity Initiative. Working with agencies from USTRANSCOM, USEUCOM, USPACOM and HQ AMC they developed processes and tested procedures to expedite the movement of material directly from the aircraft onto awaiting flatbed trailers. Cargo normally held and flown to final destinations in the European and Pacific theaters now moves by surface conveyance leading to the elimination of numerous airlift channel routes in both regions. This intermodal approach helped save the Department of Defense millions of dollars every year, but more importantly freed up valuable airlift resources, making them available to execute other critical missions. Port Dawgs also developed the “trans-load” concept in order to reduce the number of C-5 aircraft landing at down-line or austere locations without needed maintenance support. Fully loaded C-5 aircraft were terminated at fixed en route locations where cargo and personnel were “trans-loaded” from one C-5 onto two C-17 aircraft that moved the loads to the final destinations. It was air transportation specialists who helped to devise procedures that eventually led to standardized policy to ensure cargo that was previously inspected, manifested and transported on one airframe could expeditiously be divided and loaded onto multiple airframes. “Trans-loading” is now a recognized term and regularly practiced within the Defense Transportation System. Most recently, the Port Dawg community assumed the responsibility for loading C-17 and C-5 aircraft without qualified aircrew being present. The old “Phase-II” program has matured into the Aerial Port Expeditor (APEX) program, in which highly qualified air transportation Airmen conduct up and downloading operations without aircrew support. This latest initiative enables aircrew to enter into crew rest sooner, resulting in their increased availability for follow-on missions while also providing commanders a flexible capability to manage airflow both at home station and deployed locations. Since inception, these experts have completed over 64,000 missions, carrying more than 1.1 million tons of cargo without any significant discrepancies or accidents while reducing the strain on aircraft loadmasters.
Port Dawgs are also natural instructors. They can be found in classrooms on installations around the world instructing augmentees from across the Air Force on methods to rapidly deploy organizational equipment. They also educate Army, Navy and Marine logisticians, providing training to Movement Control Teams on load planning and cargo preparation methods so that joint partners can respond rapidly when required. Air transportation specialists continue to serve in key headquarters positions, where they develop policy and procedures for the safe movement of passengers and cargo on DoD and commercial contracted aircraft.
SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO THE AIR MOBILITY MISSION, CULTURE, AND HISTORY
Since the United States military innovated to move assets by air, there have been Airmen involved to do it better, bigger, faster, and safer in both peacetime and wartime without pause. Most famously, The Berlin Airlift demanded experts develop first-ever processes to help move more than 2.3 million tons of humanitarian relief supplies on over 300,000 missions while averaging an aircraft arrival every 30-45 seconds. Their Herculean effort provided vital supplies to the people of Berlin isolated by the blockade established by the Soviet Union and secured the first victory in the long Cold War to come. Less than a decade later during the Korean Conflict, General William H. Tunner insisted he could not completely guarantee airlift capabilities unless he could control the loading and unloading of his air transport planes. This doctrinal shift established several small detachments throughout Korea manned with Air Transportation professionals who oversaw the handling of 210,000 missions that moved over 390,000 tons of materiel, airdropped 18,000 tons of supplies, and transported over two million passengers. During the Vietnam War, “Port Dawgs” continued to impress and innovate to move 33,000 passengers and 140,000 tons of cargo each month under the increased pressure of a sorely under-manned career field. Furthermore, undaunted by the wartime workload and unsatisfied with the status quo air transportation professionals identified requirements that led to the development of better material handling methods and equipment capable of operating in austere environments. As airlift airframes, capabilities, and mission needs changed the Air Transportation community evolved seamlessly to match, constantly tweaking their procedures to meet the changing operational environment. In the early 1980s, Air transportation leaders established Commercial Gateways at civilian international airports across the United States that streamlined the movement of DoD passengers traveling for official business. Several of these locations are still in operation today, oversee the movement of thousands of passengers each month as they deploy around the globe or complete a permanent change in duty station saving the DoD both time and money. “Port Dawgs” look to improve with critical eyes even when their operations are successful. As the US airlifted over 482,000 passengers and 513,000 tons of cargo in support of Operation DESERT STORM, there was limited visibility and clarity on the location of cargo between embarkation and arrival to the on scene commander. Once this shortfall was identified, air transportation specialists provided technical insight on the development of better manifesting methods and tracking systems to ensure cargo could be tracked during movement. Air transportation specialists were instrumental in the design and creation of today’s In-transit Visibility (ITV) systems, such as the Global Air Transportation and Execution System (GATES) that provides valuable insight to the joint warfighter. Most recently, they contributed to the development of Material Handling Equipment, to include the 60K-Tunner and the 25K-Halvorsen loaders. The pragmatic minds of air transportation Airmen involved in both loaders’ development can be seen every day as the loaders move mission across the globe. Most impressively, both vehicles are versatile enough to be able to reach the cargo deck of any civilian or military aircraft utilized in the Defense Transportation System. In addition to their versatility, they are extremely reliable in austere conditions, and are able to be quickly reconfigured for transport on a C-130 aircraft, making them deployable to anywhere a C-130 can land.
The air transportation career field grew in lockstep with America’s development of its airlift fleet and although not as visible as various aspects of the that development, their contributions have always been that vital ingredient of turning assets and resources of airlift into a viable, responsive global capability. Beginning with the C-87s and C-54s of the 1940’s USAAF Air Transport Command (ATC), Port Dawgs started as flight clerks keeping track of and loading high value assets and manifesting personnel. As ATC created channel missions in the mid-1940s, transporters were responsible for all ground handling aspects. When the Air Force took possession of C-124 Globemasters in 1950, cargo handlers were assigned to aircrews. Today’s loadmasters evolved from the air transportation career field to create an unbroken link between ground and air handling of cargo and passengers. Select Airmen were drawn from the air transportation community to become part of aerial delivery crews that were vital during the Korean War. And today’s Contingency Response Airmen are on the tip of the spear of airlift missions throughout the globe bringing hope to those in need.
The Air Transportation Career Field has cemented this long history of accomplishments through formal organizational change and inclusion to guarantee its future. Since 1991, a Career Field Manager assigned to the HQ Air Force staff provides insight to key leaders on the health of the career field. When the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center was established, Air Transportation experts were immediately assigned to the airlift cell to provide their expertise in the mission execution process. The Expeditionary Center at Joint Base (JB) McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst now provides a large number of aerial port operations courses prepared and taught by a small cadre of highly experienced Port Dawgs to hundreds of active duty and Air Reserve Component members from bases around the globe every year. Port Dawgs overcome challenges through innovation. They are a special breed of individual, known for “getting it done” no matter what adversity arises. Their collective efforts have set the standard for all mobility forces.
With an extensive and decorated 70+ year history beginning with the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command and now with today’s super ports and contingency support wings, Air Transportation Specialists are the backbone of our nation’s ability to respond to crisis anywhere in the world.
Air Transportation Specialists, also known as “Port Dawgs” have long answered their nation’s call by facilitating the loading of wounded patients and the dignified transfer of human remains. They have loaded distinguished visitors, emergency leave passengers, and have supplied the beans, bullets and bombs in the war on terrorism in addition to supporting rescue operations. These unsung heroes have always found a way to get the mission done and ensure the full utilization of critical air assets. Their rich legacy of service provides our nation with the speed and flexibility necessary to make rapid global mobility a daily reality!
Air Mobility begins and ends on the ground and has long been in the capable hands of these remarkable Airmen. Port Dawgs not only conduct steady-state operations at strategic aerial ports across the globe, they are also a critical contingency response capability. Whether it’s a three man team with a forklift and laptop performing a Joint Inspection in a remote part of the world, or a part of a larger team handling dozens of daily missions supporting a major crisis or humanitarian effort, Port Dawgs ensure every passenger and piece of cargo is properly prepared, manifested, and loaded.
The aerial port community has long been the silent power behind the thunder of air power and is fully deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame. The Air Transportation Career Field was honored and formally recognized at the A/TA National Convention held at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Florida from 23-26 October, 2019.