Citizen Airmen airlift passengers and cargo worldwide

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

Nestled along the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base flightline, the nearly 200 members of the 87th Aerial Port Squadron buzz between multiple buildings to fulfill all the tasks encompassed in their career field. They are cargo builders, passenger services specialists, forklift drivers, hazardous materials handlers, joint inspectors, and pallet pushers. Without “Port Dawgs” and their extensive expertise, all cargo and supplies are permanently grounded.

“Considerably one of the most vital roles in the U. S. Air Force, we have the capability to move anything, anywhere, at any time,” says Staff Sgt. Robert Hessler, special handling joint inspector.

It all begins in the air terminal operations center, where flight information comes directly from the air traffic control tower.

“ATOC is where everything happens,” says Staff Sgt. Seth Allen, a Citizen Airman assigned to the ATOC section within the aerial port. “We push information from the tower to all of our sections, then they go out and do their part.”

When an aircraft lands at Wright-Patterson, the aerial port ramp controller goes out to meet the crew immediately upon arrival. Soon after, passenger services specialists arrive to greet passengers and transport them safely off the flightline.

Ramp services Port Dawgs drive large vehicles designed for transporting multiple pallets, up to 60,000 pounds of cargo, at a time. Other aerial porters work with 89th Airlift Squadron loadmasters to physically push the pallets off the aircraft so they can be taken to the aerial port cargo warehouse, where other Port Dawgs process the cargo, sometimes storing it until it can be loaded onto another aircraft and flown to its final destination, often overseas.

“When my recruiter explained everything this AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code) does, I thought it sounded like a fun job,” says Senior Airman Ryan Hood, a ramp services specialist and full-time graphic design student at Wright State University. “My favorite part of this job is driving different vehicles, and the people.”

During the November unit training assembly, the 87th Aerial Port Squadron completed one aircraft upload and two aircraft downloads for real-world missions, directly supporting the Air Force.

“If anything comes up during the drill weekend, we take it,” says Chief Master Sgt. Sean Storms, aerial port manager and active reserve technician. “We are also responsible for a weekly combat download on Tuesday evenings, and our local members usually help with that.”

Although the mission requirements fluctuate from month to month, Port Dawgs stand ready.

“Perpetually training in our ever-changing military, we can maintain expeditious and safe transportation of cargo and troops,” Sergeant Hessler says. “The 87th has a deep history of family and excellence in service. We carry that honor with us through each operation.”

The squadron frequently works closely with other branches to accomplish tasks like joint inspections before airlifting equipment like vehicles and deploying troops.

“This presents us with the opportunity to interact with other forces and better understand our mission as a whole,” he says.

Within the career field, Airmen are rotated through the ATOC, cargo processing, passenger services, ramp services, and special handling sections, allowing opportunities for growth, advanced certifications, and promotion.

“We have a pretty big impact,” says Airman Hood. “A lot of stuff couldn’t happen if we didn’t do our job correctly.”