KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
One civilian and five military U.S. Air Force air transportation specialists with the 377th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base ensure that passengers and cargo getting on and off military aircraft here are moved safely and quickly.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Alessandrini, 377th LRS air terminal manager, highlighted the purpose of the air transportation function.
“What we’re doing is paving the way for the future of military operations downrange. Protecting our people, and supporting them, for the most important missions, moving high-value assets,” he said.
In 2019, the 377th LRS Aerial Port moved more than 800 passengers and nearly a million pounds of cargo. In 2020, even with COVID-19 movement restrictions, Alessandrini said he expects to top those numbers.
To qualify in the 2T2 Air Force Specialty Code, air transportation specialists attend six weeks of technical training at Fort Lee, Virginia.
After reporting to their first duty station, they learn through on-the-job training to operate a $1.8 million “Tunner” 60K aircraft cargo loader/transporter. The vehicle is named after U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner, who directed airlift operations during World War II, the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, and the Korean War in 1950. The mobile and maneuverable diesel-powered Tunner, with its powered conveyor system, can move six cargo pallets totaling 60,000 pounds at 23 mph, and hydraulically lift the deck from 39 inches to 18.5 feet – high enough to load a 747 commercial aircraft.
The 377th Aerial Port function’s “loadmasters on the ground,” to use Alessandrini’s phrase, also operate a Halvorsen cargo loader, capable of moving 25,000 pounds of cargo, and step trucks, allowing passengers to board and deplane safely.
Alessandrini said that to do well in the career field, Airmen need to be versatile.
“It’s a plug-and-play environment. Thinking on your feet is key, because things tend to change with no notice – weather, aircraft delays, cargo or passenger changes, and more.”
Safely loading hazardous material is a significant part of the air transportation function, requiring 2T2s to attend hazmat school, so they can provide travel-worthy cargo – meeting Defense Transportation Regulation standards – to aircraft loadmasters.
The Kirtland AFB air transportation office is connected to the Global Air Transportation Execution System, digitally tracking the status of passengers and cargo worldwide.
For passenger processing, the aerial port facility has walk-through magnetometers and hand wands to detect metal, such as knives, and as a COVID-19 hygiene initiative, they use electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to clean the terminal and buses.
The air terminal manager said that the most rewarding part of the job is reaching mission completion successfully, without a hitch.
“I came into a shop that has the most professional individuals, who are mature enough to handle what we’re doing. That’s what makes me proud – getting the mission out, on time, without any hiccups.”