Port Dawgs: The driving force behind mission success

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rachel Ingram
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Each day, the U.S. Air Force transports passengers and equipment around the globe integral to its big-picture mission.

The Airmen responsible for preparing, loading and offloading people and cargo are members of the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, informally known as Port Dawgs.

In the APS, Master Sgt. LaSal Austin manages the material handling equipment program. As part of his duties, he tracks and manages the driver’s licenses for every Airman in the squadron.

“Everything the Air Force does in a deployed location requires a 2T2 Airman to be there to move, ship, or transport equipment and personnel,” Austin said, referring to the 2T2X1 Air Transportation Air Force Specialty Code. “Our Airmen carry a wide range of credentials on their military driver’s licenses.”

Passenger buses, forklifts, staircase trucks, cargo loaders and lavatory service trucks are among the types of vehicles Port Dawgs are licensed to operate, both at home station and in-theater.

Because operational tempo overseas can be quite high, Staff. Sgt. Bryce Phelps, 87th APS passenger services representative, explained it’s essential that Port Dawgs feel confident in their ability to safely operate various types of material-handling equipment.

Phelps completed refresher training on several pieces of MHE during the November unit training assembly.

“During one deployment, an Airman I worked with was transferred to three different duty sections within the aerial port,” he recalled. “You have to be knowledgeable about all of the vehicles to accomplish the mission.”

Phelps’ supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Kevin Shaffer, was also on that deployment and, upon arrival, ended up working in a completely different duty section of the aerial port.

Shaffer works full time as a contractor in the host unit’s aerial port at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, so he provides much of the vehicle training for his wingmen in the 87th APS.

“When you deploy, you work wherever they need you, and the other people on the team are counting on you to know what you’re doing,” Shaffer said.

While it is possible to complete vehicle training in theater, Austin said the squadron tries to maintain readiness, so they can hit the ground running on a deployment.

The 87th APS typically conducts some type of hands-on vehicle training every UTA, placing an extra emphasis on cross-training between sections, so that Airmen are familiar with the vehicles used in other sections of their career field.

“Refresher trainings are important,” Austin added. “It’s not about sitting in a classroom, talking about vehicles. We want our Airmen out there, driving and getting comfortable.”

When the mission requires, Austin said Port Dawgs behind the wheel of any of these vehicles may cross an active runway to ensure the on-time movement of critical shipments.

Because of the risk associated with that, airfield driving training is an annual requirement for all licensed Port Dawgs. The training covers topics like communicating with the air traffic controller, understanding light signals, parking on the flightline and approaching aircraft.