by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/1/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Whether its hazardous cargo, blood shipments, ammo and explosives, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron’s cargo processing and special handling section ensures items are properly marked, have their paperwork and the security necessary for flying the items to their destination.
“Our main focus is safety of flight,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Graham, the 8th EAMS cargo processing and special handling NCO in charge currently on a remote tour here. “We make sure every piece of hazardous marked cargo is correctly prepared for flight.”
Special handling ensures items like blood, plasma, vaccines and bio samples are properly stored using their refrigerator units.
“Upon arrival here we have no more than 12 hours to make sure the blood is downloaded and stored in our reefer units,” Graham said. “We have 75 pounds of dry ice on hand to assist in this process.”
Thanks to 8th EAMS, the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group’s Blood Transshipment Center is able to accomplish their mission to providing life sustaining blood products to not only U.S. forces, but also Afghan soldiers, NATO members and coalition forces who have been injured downrange.
Not only does Graham’s section deal with life-saving items, but also highly toxic and radioactive material.
“If it’s not properly labeled it could cause for serious concern in-flight,” he said. “And that’s where we come in. We go through and inspect everything so incidents don’t happen, especially not when you’re 20,000 feet in the air.”
Special handling also works hand-in-hand with mortuary affairs to ensure service member’s remains are handled correctly as part of the Department of Defense’s dignified transfer mission.
“Our reefers also store human remains,” said Graham. “When our fallen brothers and sisters come through here, we work very closely with mortuary affairs to make sure they get the dignified transfer they deserve.”
Master Sgt. Michael Trace, the 379th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron readiness and mortuary affairs superintendent deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said the dignified transfer mission is very important and he appreciates the care 8th EAMS takes in its support.
“They handle it just the same as we would,” Trace said. “They render the proper customs and courtesies including the handling. They practice these customs with us so we’re all on the same page.”
In Trace’s opinion, the dignified transfer mission is the number one mission carried out by the 379th EFSS.
“We want to make sure we are taking proper care of our fallen warriors and get them home and 8th EAMS does a great job of doing that with us,” continued Trace.
As the U.S. continues its draw down in Afghanistan, 8th EAMS is working hard to make sure units down range have the right equipment to secure cargo on its way home to the states.
“We monitor all the pallets and nets on base,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Pettit, the 8th EAMS aircraft services superintendent also on a remote tour here. “We’ve encountered a critical crunch as units redeploy back to home station.”
Pettit asks units here with pallets and nets to return them to 8th EAMS as they assist units in Afghanistan returning home.
“We can’t accomplish our mission here without every member in the mobility chain,” Pettit said. “Each organization in the wheel is essential.”
Keeping people safe by completing mission essential inspections is just another day on the job for cargo processing and special handling, however.
“Every box I build, I treat as if it’s going to my friends and family,” Graham said. “Our mission here means a lot to me because that box of munitions we shipped out could have saved my nephews and cousins deployed with the Army, Air Force and Marines.”
[Editor’s note: This article is part five of an eight part series highlighting the unique missions accomplished by the Airmen of 8th EAMS.]