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Supplying the warfighter
Staff Sgt. Zeus Lee pushes a palette of cargo from a C-17 Globemaster onto a 60K loader at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Dec. 14. Lee, a 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron load crew team chief and native of Jersey City, N.J., is deployed from the Air Force Reserve's 46th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jason Epley)
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Reserve aerial porters contribute to Operation Iraqi Freedom

Posted 12/15/2008   Updated 12/15/2008 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

12/15/2008 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Being deployed during the holidays can be a trying experience, but 512th Airlift Wing aerial porters are keeping their spirits up while supplying vital cargo to the war fighter in Iraq. 

Twenty-four 46th Aerial Port Squadron members here and 10 Airmen from the 71st APS, Langley AFB, Va., are spending their holidays processing and loading cargo at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. 

"These Airmen have stepped up and taken on the challenge of serving in an austere location during the time of year people like share with their loved ones," said Col. Elaine K. Barron, 512th Mission Support Group commander who oversees the 46th APS and 71st APS. "They are working long, hard days to ensure U.S. Armed Forces are receiving much-needed supplies and equipment to fight the war." 

Tech. Sgt. Melena Quetel, a transportation specialist and cargo processor, is assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Joint Base Balad. Each month, the ERLS processes more than 950 cargo aircraft, 12,000 tons of cargo and 19,000 passengers, according to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing factsheet. Some of the cargo they process includes Humvees, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks and helicopters. 

Sergeant Quetel ensures cargo is properly built on pallets to be hauled by aircraft. She also processes the associated paperwork and inputs it into the computer tracking system. 

Although she misses her family, especially now that it's the holiday season, she says her deployment has been a meaningful experience. 

"I have thoroughly enjoyed this challenge," she said. "I'm making a difference." 

Staff Sgt. Zeus Lee, a fellow 46th APS member who is also assigned to the 332nd ELRS, said he also likes the deployment experience. He works in ramp services and as a load crew team chief he is in charge of a crew that loads and unloads cargo. 

"I like being deployed because I learn a lot, meet new people and experience things that happen once in a lifetime," said Sergeant Lee, a Jersey City, N.J., native. "This is my second deployment, and each time it has made me really proud to be part of the Air Force." 

Working everyday for 12 or more hours can make it difficult to keep track of what day of the week it is. However, Sergeant Quetel said the hard work is worth it as she is doing her part to combat terrorism and assist Iraqis. 

This was especially driven home one night when she was walking to choir practice at the hospital chapel. She saw a small Iraqi boy, about 8 years old, in bandages and carrying a soccer ball. 

"As I approached him, he looked at the nurse with him and asked if he could play," she said. "He tossed the ball my way, and I tapped it back to him. It made us both smile and warmed my heart." 

Being deployed over the holidays brings its own challenges, but it's different for every Airman. 

Sergeant Quetel is married and has three grown children and a grandson. To take her mind off of all of the family traditions she is missing, she said she brings her Christmas cheer to work to keep her co-workers, her deployed family, from getting the holiday blues.

It's a little different for Sergeant Lee, who is single and has no children. He doesn't think about the holidays as much as he focuses on work and the mission, he said. 

Being able to talk to his parents and close relatives during the holidays and knowing they are doing well gives him peace of mind, he said. 

"And, thanks to the internet, shopping for their Christmas gifts isn't hard," he said. 

The aerial porters will ring in the New Year in Iraq, and will soon after return to their families bringing home memories and job experience gained from their deployment.

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