Distribution globally mobilizes the 158th Fighter Wing's air power
By Staff Sgt. Victoria Greenia, 158 Fighter Wing
/ Published September 10, 2015
South Burlington, Vt. -- For a shop that can move hundreds of Airmen, thousands of pounds of cargo and massive pieces of equipment around the world, the Vermont Air National Guard's Deployment and Distribution Flight keeps an oddly low profile.
Within the flight are logistic management technicians, air transportation specialists, traffic management technicians and vehicle operators. These are the Airmen who spend months planning, organizing, inspecting, weighing and labeling cargo for VTANG deployments.
As for why so little is said about them, Senior Airman Alexander Byrne, a logistic management specialist, also called a "loggie," said he believes there's an expectation for a seamless job; sort of how a person normally doesn't thank a postman for delivering mail on time. So in a way, no talk is good.
But the fact is deployments and missions would be nearly impossible without this shop. Byrne has been in the flight for about two years, working behind the scenes to get Airmen and equipment where they need to go.
"A lot of people don't know what we do but I think it's safe to liken it to a military version of UPS," he said.
Getting personnel and the proper equipment delivered safely thousands of miles away and on time isn't as easy as one might think, Deployment and Distribution Flight Commander Capt. Zachary Clark, said. In fact, it's usually not easy - but he said his shop lives by the Logistics and Readiness Squadron's mission statement that it "delivers combat airpower and logistical support at home and around the world" and it will do what's necessary to get the job done.
As a fighter wing, the VTANG has no cargo aircraft of its own, so transportation of personnel or equipment is reliant on the assets of other bases. Sometimes it's easy for loggies to find crews willing to help; other times they end up making a lot of phone calls. It can be luck of the draw what type of craft they are going to get, which makes continuity planning near impossible, since each aircraft has a different shape and loadbearing and each deployment will have different tools and assets to be moved.
Although tedious, thorough inspection and labeling are key aspects of the Deployment and Distribution Flight members' jobs. Airmen from the Traffic Management and Air Transportation Offices scrutinize each and every package to make certain the cargo is air-worthy. Painstaking considerations are given to storing hazardous chemicals separately so they don't mix and create a corrosive or explosive gas. Then items are weighed and weighed again because everything needs a center of balance for when it's put on an airborne vehicle.
Inside the craft, pallets and equipment must be loaded in a sequence with the overall weight evenly distributed. Not only must certain objects be placed in front of other objects, some areas can only house smaller packages and there must be aisle ways for crew and passengers to walk. After that has been puzzled out, they begin to secure the assets.
"We have to help chain everything down properly," Clark explained. "If things came unchained and slipped to the back of the aircraft, it could unbalance it and crash. Safety of flight is our priority, and we ensure it with our load plans and thorough inspections so things are built right and ready to fly."
It's like a game of Tetris - taking odd shapes and figuring where they best fit. Like in the game, Airmen have to be quick-thinking and flexible, because even after working on it a year in advance, the tiniest adjustment to the mission's location, purpose or personnel can make the plan obsolete. It can change the size of the footprint of what the unit can transport, reporting instructions, country clearances, orders, and whether people can or can't be armed.
And even if none of those things change, the best planning can still go out the window if the loadmaster of the cargo aircraft, for whatever reason, doesn't feel comfortable with the load plan the loggies have created. It happens rather frequently, Clark said, and the only thing they can do is roll with it. Instead of being discouraged that a year's work has disappeared, he said that's when his team performs at its best.
"That's when we're making our money in logistics," he said. "When we're told we're not getting a C-17 anymore, but three C-130s. On paper there is the same amount of pallet positions but getting the increments to fit are not the same. It's a fun challenge; we plan and exercise for this."
Constant vigilance assures the safety of American assets and gets people and equipment to mission destinations; third and fourth plans are second nature to technicians in this field. But even after all the challenges, setbacks and maybe headaches, Byrne and Clark both said there's nothing more satisfying than watching a culmination of months of planning come together when that last load of cargo gets secured, the doors close and the craft heads down the runway. They know that those Airmen will be able to do their mission because of the Deployment and Distribution Flight.