AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — When a runway closed in Turkey, officials scrambled to find another way to get supplies to U.S. Forces in Iraq.
The answer was quite simple — the Federal Aviation Administration approved flight line at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, which is the only place in country that can land civilian U.S.-flagged aircraft.
“Why not here,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Morain, 532nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Air Mobility Flight superintendent and Palmetto, La., native. “It’s safe, and it allows us to move cargo and passengers in and out of country without having to stage it somewhere else.”
Being the hub for commercial air services, the air mobility flight is tasked with the mission of getting supplies to the hands of service members as they advise, train and assist the government of Iraq.
“We are the only aerial port in Iraq that handles both commercial passengers and cargo,” said Capt. Jared Newman, 532nd EOSS AMF commander and Mesquite, Texas, native. “We are the hub for commercial air coming into and out of Iraq. We are excited about the work, and are happy to have this mission.”
The flight line in Al Asad recently took on a commercial cargo mission and made history by unloading its first 747 earlier this month. Since then, the aerial porters have offloaded several more 747s, each capable of carrying 42 pallets or more than 180,000 pounds.
“It’s an additional workload but we are set up to handle it,” said Staff Sgt. Todd Moreau, 532nd EOSS AMF passenger services NCO in charge and an Atlanta native. “It keeps us busy, but no matter what, it gets done efficiently.”
The team had to build up an extra cargo yard to store the increased amount of supplies coming in.
“A lot of cargo is landing here and it’s not staying,” said Newman, who is deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va. “There was fear of a backlog, but we are able to get the cargo out to the war fighter quickly.”
The flight moves about 180,000 pounds of cargo a week, ranging from spare parts to building materials.
“It is support cargo for all of Iraq,” said Morain, who is deployed from Yokota AB, Japan. “The various supplies support all the different units throughout the area of responsibility.”
The team also launches multiple commercial passenger missions every week. The Commercial Passenger Program saves more than $230,000 per aircraft by moving passengers directly from Al Asad to their home station, bypassing multiple air hubs along the way. In total, the program has saved more than $41 million since it began in July.
“It saves money by saving time,” Morain said. “Service members can fly directly from here back to the United States. A commercial jet can carry two battalions of soldiers, so the Army is able to move entire units at one time.”
Flying commercial airliners in and out of Al Asad has multiple benefits, including freeing up military airlift for operations in Afghanistan.
“More than the money, the big savings at this point is in gaining some effective transportation efficiency,” Newman said. “By utilizing our commercial partners, we are freeing up Air Force assets for other operations. It’s more effective to fly cargo on a commercial bird directly from the CONUS to Al Asad than it is to fly that same cargo to another location in Southwest Asia and then disbursing it into theater on multiple missions via C-5, C-17 or C-130.”