Planes, trains, automobiles ... and ships: U.S., Luxembourg partnership supports U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — As President Obama's plan to plus up U.S. forces in Afghanistan goes into motion, to say the 86th Materiel Maintenance Squadron is working overtime would be a bit of an understatement.
SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stevenson Johnson, 86th Material Maintenance Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency loads an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong)
2 photos: SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stevenson Johnson, 86th Material Maintenance Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and local members of the Warehouses Service Agenc
Photo 1 of 2: SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stevenson Johnson, 86th Material Maintenance Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency loads an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong) Download full-resolution version
SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force members from the 86th Material Maintenance Squadron and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency load an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong)
2 photos: SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force members from the 86th Material Maintenance Squadron and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency load an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Centr
Photo 2 of 2: SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force members from the 86th Material Maintenance Squadron and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency load an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong) Download full-resolution version
SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stevenson Johnson, 86th Material Maintenance Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency loads an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong)
SANEM, District of Luxembourg — U.S. Air Force members from the 86th Material Maintenance Squadron and local members of the Warehouses Service Agency load an AM-2 matt landing strip at the Central Region Storage Facility here in support of ongoing war efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarayuth Pinthong)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — As President Obama's plan to plus up U.S. forces in Afghanistan goes into motion, to say the 86th Materiel Maintenance Squadron is working overtime would be a bit of an understatement.

Called upon to carry out U.S. Air Force's in Europe's largest movement of war readiness materiel since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the 86th MMS, along with their partners in the Warehouses Service Agency, has pulled out all the stops.

"The pure size of it alone is daunting," said Master Sgt. Edward Watson, 86th MMS Engineering and Materiel Management Flight chief. "When we're asked to do something like this everybody steps up, brings their game face. They're working seven days a week, 14, 16 hour days. They know how important it is, and morale is really high."

Operating from the Central Region Storage Facility in Sanem, Luxembourg, the MMS and WSA are already well into the process of moving 354,240 square feet of AM-2 airfield matting, and enough basic expeditionary airfield resources, or BEAR, materiel to build six forward operating bases for 3,500 military forces in Afghanistan.

"This is truly a unique logistics challenge. It's 6 million pounds of WRM by planes, trains, trucks and ships across multiple countries and continents," said Lt. Col. Adrian Crowley, 86th MMS commander.

Shipments leave the CRSF by truck to be airlifted, moved by rail or by sea to their various locations in the area of responsibility. The colonel said that the total outload would require 200 trucks just to the get WRM to various ports, which would equate to 80 C-17 equivalents if it were all airlifted.

"We're actually stressing the logistics system not only here in Central Europe, but also all the way to Eastern Europe and even across Russia and several countries bordering Afghanistan," he said. "We are learning quite a bit about the logistics of doing such a massive outload in such a short amount of time."

The BEAR base concept involves a combination of modules that create living and operating space for 550 people in an austere setting, to include sleeping quarters, shower and shave units, laundry, kitchen, latrine, electrical power, heating and cooling.

"It's everything you would need to stand up, build, and sustain a bare base," Crowley said.

Most of the equipment headed into Afghanistan has been kept in a "ready to deploy" state at the CRSF since 2005, where the WSA, a partner company representing the government of Luxembourg, has continuously kept the gear in brand-new condition. In this status, the equipment is capable of outload within 48 hours.

The CRSF is home to close to 95 percent of USAFE's War Reserve Materiel which includes vehicles, aerospace ground equipment, fuels mobility support equipment, aircraft tanks, racks, adaptors, and pylons, BEAR kits and other airfield support equipment items valued at over $400 million.

"The main mission here is to receive the equipment, to inspect it, to repair it, do cyclic maintenance and occasional shipping actions," said Norbert Giampellegrini, WSA general manager. "We are also here to support any rapid deployment or contingency mission. I think there is no bigger motivation for (WSA), than to participate in such an important mission. We had no problem to convince the people, or to motivate them to do overtime."

Working side by side with the 86th MMS, WSA personnel have given up weekends and national holidays to push through this outload for the last two months, and another month is in store. Their plan -- keep working until the work is done.

"Everyone has been very excited. One team, one fight, in that regard," Crowley said. "We train day in and day out to store and maintain these assets to the best of our ability, but there's a special satisfaction to actually being able to deploy them. We couldn't be more proud with the attitude and the motivation level from both sides."

By sending out the majority of BEAR equipment stored in Europe, the colonel estimates it will be one to two years before the CRSF has resupplied their inventory well enough to support another deployment of this magnitude. Because the items are considered an Air Force weapon system, they are being funded by the Joint Staff for replenishment, which equates to about $70 million for the 176,000 WRM assets dedicated to the one-way deployment.

"The Air Force has decided we're all in on this deployment," he said. "It's a case where an Air Force weapon system is going out the door to help our Joint partners."

In the meantime, the combined MMS and WSA team is enjoying the fact that all of their teamwork and vigilance over the years is paying off for the mission.

"No one ever pays attention to WRM until you need it," said Watson. "Now that we're kind of in the limelight, you could say, for this outload. Everyone's taking their job very seriously. They're really having fun seeing their hard work throughout the years (resulting in the WRM) getting pushed out the door and accomplishing something for the warfighter. They take great pride in that."

The WSA was established and designated by the government of Luxembourg to perform all the services set forth in a memorandum of understanding between Luxembourg and the United States dating back to December 1978. The U.S. Air Force initiated operations at the CRSF in 1994 and oversees WSA site operations.

"The success of this operation is a testament to the enduring strategic partnership between the United States and our NATO partners," said Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon, 86th Airlift Wing commander. "Team Ramstein is proud to support this joint effort as a force provider bringing a unique and critical combat support weapon system to the warfighters in Afghanistan."

The deployment surge, announced in December 2009 by President Obama, was initiated by the U.S. Department of Defense and supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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