Contingency Response Airmen enable Marines at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq

  • Published
  • By Cpl. John Baker
  • Marine Forces Central Command - Forward
U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen work around the clock to sustain and improve the Task Force Al Taqaddum Advise and Assist site at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq. Each service and section plays an important role in ensuring the success of this mission, part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

One unit in particular is tasked with expeditionary air field operations. Airmen with 321st Contingency Response Element are on the flight line every night receiving the supplies necessary for Task Force Al Taqaddum.

The 321st Commander, U.S. Air Force Lt Col. Kyle A. Benwitz, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, said his unit has all the right capabilities for this mission.

"My unit is the right size, trained and equipped to respond and open an air base regardless of service, within 12 hours of notification," said Benwitz. "For the instance of this mission, we were the right capability to deploy in very short notice and what we bring is all the capabilities required to open and operate an airfield."

Benwitz explained that once his unit is on the ground, they can facilitate landing aircraft within three hours. There are many different military specialties and specialized equipment required for expeditionary air field operations. Benwitz said their small team brings together all the necessary parts to make the mission successful.

"We bring a complete air field base operations support," said Benwitz. "We provide air traffic control, aerial port, vehicle maintenance, aircraft maintenance and security forces that can bridge the gap from initial deployment to a sustained, enduring force."

One of these airmen, Senior Airman Daniel Eliza, from Springfield, Massachusetts, an air transportation specialist with the unit, works a 12-hour shift each night alongside the rest of the flight line personnel to keep aircraft loaded with supplies and personnel rolling in to Al Taqaddum.

"We support the mission by downloading and uploading cargo off multiple aircraft to initially open and then sustain an air base," said Eliza.

Al Taqaddum receives its supplies from massive transport aircraft like the KC-130 and C-17, along with rotary and tiltrotor aircraft. Eliza uses heavy equipment the unit brought to offload the supplies.

"We use forks and [10k all-terrain forklifts] which have a lifting capacity of 10,000 pounds," said Eliza. "We also use a 25k Halverson loader which can lift can lift three pallets, and 25,000 pounds."

Though the bulk of the airfield operations are done by these Airmen, Marines also support the mission in several ways.

"This is a joint environment that we're working in, and there are Marines who will be driving material-handling equipment to assist with the download of the rotary wing aircraft," said Benwitz. "We also have Marine security forces that augment our own Air Force security forces to provide that 360-degree security for the airfield."

Eliza said he realizes that he plays a crucial role in support of the Task Force Al Taqaddum mission, but he knows there is a lot going on around him that enables him to do his job safely and effectively. Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command are responsible for the long-term security and logistics at the site.

"The (security force) Marines are working hard and making sure we're protected and safe while we do our job," said Eliza. "They're building up the base as well, and if it wasn't for them we wouldn't be living in an air conditioned tent right now, and wouldn't have showers or actual restrooms."

This unit won't stay at Al Taqaddum forever. They will eventually be replaced by a more permanent set of airfield operators as the base becomes more established.

"We're a mobility unit--we get prepared, we stand by until crises happen or emergencies or natural disasters," said Eliza. "When we get the call, we have our stuff already packed and we head out the door to get things done."

Expeditionary air fields are the specialty of the 321st Contingency Response Element, and once it is relieved at Al Taqaddum it will begin resetting for its next employment.