Message from MSgt Chris Swinson, September, 2005
An Airlifter "finds his roots"/Mobility Operations in Iraq 2005
"Many of us used to sit around and speculate on what it must have been like, but the stories and
the pictures on your page bring it home.Thank you! "
Subject: That Was Then...This Is Today
7 Sep 2005
My hat is off to you and the 8th Aerial Port MOB troops who put it on the
line (literally).and then chose to share your story. My name is Chris
Swinson and I'm one of those who followed where you paved the way. I'm
creeping up on my 20 year mark and my next promotion to SMSgt. I missed the
days of the MAPS, but was lucky enough to be assigned to the 437th Aerial
Port Mobility Flight at Charleston AFB, SC as a SSgt select in 1993 when AMC
first stood up the Mobility Flight's. Off an on, I spent 7 of the next 12
years in the Mobility Flight..and LOVED every minute of it! I left
Charleston this past August and now find myself as the Flight Chief for the
436th Aerial Port Mobility Flight at Dover AFB, DE.
The experiences and the photos you've shared have provided something that
has been lost through the years of MOB, MAPS, and APMF evolution.a strong
tie to our Aerial Port Mobility Operations history.a sense of "knowing where
we came from". As that young SSgt, I learned an oral history of the MOB
units in Viet Nam through half-remembered tales from older aerial porters
that were used to clarify and emphasize WHY we held Air Base Ground Defense
classes.and why it was important to know how to operate in austere
environments.and why we had to know our M16 front to back and sideways.and
why we had to know about defensive fighting positions and fields of fire.
Many of us, as we progressed through the ranks, have attempted to continue
that oral tradition, but have never able to find actual accounts of early
aerial port operations.until now.
I've searched on line for years trying to find a web page like yours. I've
barely begun to trace all the links. Halfway through the main page, I
decided to write this letter to let you know that the proud tradition the
Aerial Port MOBs established in Viet Nam has been carried on. Though, until
recently, our experiences could hardly compare to the situations the MOB
teams found themselves in. I know my last stint in Balad AB, Iraq was an
eye opening experience.and the first time EVER that I've loaded planes under
fire. Rockets and mortars fired from across the Tigris River fell like
clockwork. It was intense enough for those of us who lived it.and I think
the MOB team would've been proud of the aerial port performance. Balad has
been dubbed the "airlift hub of Iraq" and many aerial port teams (Active
duty, Reserve and Guard) have rotated through there since 2004 when I was
there.they have ALL ROCKED!
I was very interested to see your link to article about Balad and the
comments about the 60K loaders and the C-17s. That was written shortly
after I'd left Balad. But, although the equipment may have advanced and
technology has found it's way to the front lines, I think you will find that
the Aerial Port mentality hasn't changed."Get the Stuff To The Fight!".
After years in the APMF "where the rubber meets the road" as a load team
chief and instructing the basic "combat-capability" tenets and doctrine that
drove it, I see from your web page where it all began. Many of us used to
sit around and speculate on what it must have been like, but the stories and
the pictures on your page bring it home.Thank you!
My utmost respect and admiration,
MSgt Chris Swinson, USAF
More from Chris Swinson:
Alan: Sorry it's been awhile. I've just finished catching up on the page. It sounds like the trip to the wall was a success. That's terrific! I've attached a couple of photos from the 2004 Balad, Iraq trip. We took tons of pics while we were there, but I can only find a few since my hard drive crashed soon after returning home. The Capt and I took a 56-man team out of Charleston. Although we were AMC troops, we were chopped to Central Air Force (CENTAF) for the Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) 9/10 "buckets" and worked for the Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Commander as the Aerial Port Flight. That's us in the 332 APF "Tail Chasers" photo. I'm on the far right standing. We ran the whole thing with only 56 of us...12 per shift in Ramp, though everyone converged on the plane if they needed help. The teamwork hasn't changed much over the years, though we don't always know each other like you guys did. The boys moved 2000 tons and 12,000 pax a month for 90 days straight...C-130s...C-17s and C-5s. We were the "Tail Chasers" because we were usually chasing the planes down the ramp with the K-loaders and ATs while they taxied to the parking spot. I remember standing in front of ATOC before the sun came up, with a light fog rolling across the ramp, watching the blinking lights of the MHE chase the aircraft taxi lights...it was AWESOME! Other than Kuwait in 2003, taking those guys there and getting the job done was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. The rocket and mortar fire bothered some more than others, but it was a constant, every day thing there. They almost seemed to be on a timer the first few weeks...0500...1200...1700...2300. The attacks increased for a bit and then tapered off after one of the battles in Fallujaha. I remember counting 18 impacts one morning in the span of 3 minutes. Of course, the schedule changed about the time you got the pattern down! Most were landing in the dirt, but there were more than a few that landed close to the APS ops or did damage to people and things at other places on the base. The mortar in the second pic impacted about 70 feet behind the Ramp hangar. I don't remember the exact number, but I think we went through over 130 attacks in 90 days. The most vivid impression was the loadmaster's reaction when the doors opened...the first question was "When's the last time you got hit?". The Port Dawgs would hit the plane in T-shirts and smiles. Their reply was: "Don't worry, you have at least 15 minutes and we only need 8 to do the download." And they did it several times...8 minutes to do a full 18-pallet C-17 offload...safely. I also attached the AT photo you asked for. The John Deere's are sweet! I'm glad we don't have to take the cabs off much though...they twist when they come off and the glass shatters. They're sweet to drive though and very smooth. Hope all is well with you and yours... Chris