Sgt. Eric Provost
Task Force Patriot PAO
LAHGMAN PROVINCE, Afghan-istan – At one time, American convoys were a regular sight on the streets of Afghanistan. Missions ran around the clock to transport Soldiers and supplies all over the country.
Now, with the Afghan National Security Forces taking an increasingly active role in the security of their country, the American presence on the roads is becoming rare.
That means if someone, or something, needs to get somewhere these days, they look to the air.
“I think our job is very important,” said Sgt. Tyrone Reddick, flight operations noncommissioned officer with 4th Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Patriot. “All Soldiers put the mission first, and it’s our job to get them to their mission.”
Reddick and three other Soldiers form the brigade control flight operations at Forward Operating Base Gamberi.
Ironically, it is a job they had no idea they would be doing. It was just before they left their home base at Fort Polk, La., that the Soldiers were informed of this mission.
“At first it was confusing,” said Sgt. Ronaldo Estabillo, night shift noncommissioned officer in charge for FOB Gamberi flight operations, “but it didn’t take long for us to understand how things ran.”
The changing operations in Afghanistan see many Soldiers from Task Force Patriot performing duties that might fall a little outside of their normal responsibilities. Reddick is actually a welder by trade, Estabillo is a mechanic, and the two junior Soldiers who work flight operations, Spc. Jason Rosario and Spc. Paul Spruce, are both truck drivers.
This is the first time any of these Soldiers have worked air travel.
“Being a mechanic, the two deployments I’ve been on I’ve done mostly vehicle recoveries,” Estabillo said. “Coming here and doing this, it’s a whole new world.”
The Soldiers received their training when they arrived in country. Now they’re in charge of facilitating the primary mode of transportation for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“It’s all about adapting and adjusting,” Reddick said. “It’s completely different from welding, but we like the challenge.”
The men learned to create and manage flight schedules. They learned how to manifest passengers on different flights and find the best way to get them to their destination.
They also had to learn to track changes to flight plans, such as each flight’s passenger numbers and making sure they know which flights are delayed or cancelled.
The biggest test the FOB Gamberi crew faces each day when it comes to those changes is trying to help last-minute passengers.
“We check every day; we check in the morning, we check in the evening, on the manifests, the flights. We still get the people out. We find a way to get them where they need to go,” Estabillo said.
Overall, though, the Soldiers who work flight operations at FOB Gamberi say it’s a rewarding experience.
“Of all the jobs they could have given me on this deployment, I’m glad they gave me this one,” Reddick said.
Each of the Soldiers on the Gamberi crew say one of their favorite parts of the job is the opportunity to meet and interact with all the different people who come through their doors.
“I’m a people person, and being a truck driver, you don’t get to interact with too many people,” Spruce said. “For me, that’s the most rewarding part – getting to make people smile, getting to make them laugh.”
Rosario, the other driver who works flight operations, even gets to use his driving skills when he operates the forklift unloading cargo from the many aircraft that fly into Gamberi.
Water and food for Gamberi’s dining facility, mail and merchandise for the Soldier-run store on base are all transported by air, and it’s the job of Soldiers working flight operations to get those supplies off the aircraft.
The Gamberi crew also understands that as time goes on and ground transportation cuts back even more, things will only get busier for them in the future, but it’s something they welcome.
“We love it when it’s busy. That’s something we’re looking forward to,” Reddick said. “We have four really intelligent guys working here. We’ve got this.”