Civilian Airliners And Military Transports Carry Soldiers Into
Before Sept. 11, 2001, the 726th Air Mobility Squadron at the
Rhein-Mein Airbase in Germany turned around nearly a dozen aircraft
a day. But in these days of possible military operations against
Iraq and its dictator, Saddam Hussein, the average is now 40
aircraft with about 2,200 people transiting the base.
Squadron airmen are responsible for terminal operations. The
number of aircraft and people they deal with each day has pegged
their overflow meter for several months. Ninety percent of the
aircraft are military transports, 75 percent of which are C-17
Globemaster IIIs. The rest are commercial airliners and
In The Zone
The squadron has never been busier, said 1st Lt. Eric McGreevy,
officer in charge of the 726th AMS passenger terminal.
"This is the most hours I've worked in my 13 years in the Air
Force," he said. "And most of the airmen here are working like two
Working like they are "in a zone," McGreevy said,
to keep up with the massive airflow. The squadron had its busiest
day last week when its troops met and quick-turned a record 104
aircraft and its more than 3,700 passengers, he added.
"Everyone dropped what they were doing to help," McGreevey said.
The squadron commander, admin troops, director of operations and
even the staff judge advocate pitched in.
It is a lot more work than New Jersey reservist Tech. Sgt.
"Wild" Bill Ciarrocchi ever imagined when he signed up for a
six-month tour at this base near Frankfurt.
The work tempo is much busier than back home in New Jersey,
where Ciarrocchi -- a Vietnam War veteran -- is a member of the
88th Aerial Port Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
"Most days I don't even have time to grab breakfast or lunch,"
Ciarrocchi said. "So you adjust."
The unit would be even busier if all the aircraft deposited or
picked up cargo at Rhein-Main, but most of the cargo does not come
off the airplanes. It stays on board while the troops file into a
reception area to wait for ground crews to service the aircraft
before the final leg of its journey to Kuwait or some other base in
the Middle East.
Set Down For A Meal... Then Off To The Gulf
After a nine-hour flight across the Atlantic, the
troops are ready for a break. Inside, tables piled high with baked
goods, cookies, coffee and soft drinks -- all courtesy of the
United Services Organization and base volunteers -- await them.
Last week, Girl Scouts donated cookies to arriving troops.
"It's nice to see people go out of their way to support us,"
Staff Sgt. Audier Irizarry said. The Brooklyn Marine Corps
reservist was bound for Kuwait with a planeload of fellow Marines
and sailors. "I bet this is the last bit of hospitality we'll get
for a while."
When Air Force transports or commercial airliners full of troops
stop at Rhein-Main, Ciarrocchi -- a spry 55-year-old -- and the
much younger airmen he works with meet them. It is a job they sweat
around the clock to do if they want to keep a leg up on the massive
airflow. Sixteen-hour days are common and days off uncommon.
Ciarrocchi's sidekick, Senior Airman John Young, does quality
assurance checks on arriving airliners. It is his job to ensure
airlines adhere to their contracts with the military, and with the
Air Force's Civilian Air Reserve Fleet now on line to help the Air
Force, he has more work to do.
Last week, Young wrote up several airlines for minor
infractions. He takes his job seriously and likes to ensure the
troops have clean airplanes and plenty of good food.
"I like knowing I play a role, even if it's a small one, in
what's going on in the world right now," Young said.
Working with their Reserve and Guard helpers, the Rhein-Main
squadron handles more aircraft and passengers than any U.S.
military base in Europe, McGreevy said.