By A.J. Bosker, 598th Transportation Brigade Public AffairsJune 25, 2014
BREMERHAVEN, Germany, -- It has been more than two decades since Army helicopters have landed at the port of Bremerhaven but recently, an influx of retrograding aircraft from Afghanistan landed here with a battalion in place to receive, prepare and safely load them onto a vessel for their trip back home.
Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 838th Transportation Battalion, 950th Transportation Company, is no stranger to executing successful port operations and partnered with Soldiers, Defense Department civilians, contractors and German local national employees to make this latest returning mission a success.
Other partners in this mission included 12th Combat Aviation Brigade's 412th Aviation Support Battalion, Bravo Company, members of the Theater Aviation Sustainment Manager-OCONUS and the Theater Logistics Support Center-Europe's Marshalling Area Control Group.
The 28 aircraft, from the 12th CAB headquartered in Katterbach, Germany, were flown into the port from June 10-17 for transportation back to the U.S, according to Col. Vincent Torza, 12th CAB commander.
The operation is "part of the Army's retrograde plan to return equipment to the U.S. from Afghanistan," Torza said.
"The 12th CAB deployed companies to Afghanistan without aircraft and will use the aircraft left in theater by previous units," he said. "These aircraft (being shipped back to the U.S.) will be used for training and operations by units that have left their aircraft in theater."
The 950th Transportation Company, located in Bremerhaven, was on sight to provide port and surface distribution operations for the 22 AH-64D Apaches, four CH-47 Chinooks, two UH-72 Lakotas and all of their supporting equipment, from June 6-18 at the sea port of embarkation of Bremerhaven, according to Michael Korn, 950th Transportation Company traffic operations manager.
"The 950th Transportation Company was responsible for coordinating the mission with the port authority, preparing the customs clearances for the aircraft and containers, conducting port surveys with the 12th CAB and U.S. Army Europe's G4 Aviation Branch and establishing the stevedoring and related terminal services contract for the operation," Korn said.
The 838th Transportation Battalion and 950th Transportation Company worked in tandem with the 21st TSC, 12th CAB, and TASM-O for several months to plan and execute this operation which also involved support from the host nation when the helicopters needed to land at Fritzlar, Germany to refuel.
Leading the aircraft receiving, preparing for shipment and loading operation were a combined team from the 412th ASB and TASM-O, which provides support to the 12th CAB all over the European theater.
"We deployed to Bremerhaven with 41 people to prepare for the aircraft arrival, conduct the (rotor blade) folding, close out each aircraft's logbook and to assist with loading the aircraft on the vessel," said maintenance test pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Ezell, 12th CAB, 412th ASB, Bravo Company.
"We came with more people than normally needed but chose to use this mission as a training opportunity," he said. "We're having Soldiers who are proficient on a particular airframe assist with the folding and preparation of different airframes. It also exposes them to operating in a port environment."
"The biggest challenge we've run into has been the weather," said Randy Strand, TASM-O. "The storms delayed several flights into the port but there were no other major issues."
Once the aircraft were on the ground, the 19 TASM-O members and the Soldiers from the 412 ASB reconfigured or removed the rotor blades, folded and securely attached them to the airframe or in a shipping container and prepared the rest of the airframe for transportation.
Overseeing one important aspect of the mission, the security of the aircraft and access to their location at the port, fell to Arthur Peete and the rest of the MAC-G team from the TLSC-E in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
"Our role here is to the support the Soldiers efforts and their deployment," Peete said. "We're responsible for managing the force protection at the port, coordinating with the host nation security for port access and vetting the hotels where the deployed Soldiers are lodged."
Peete and his team also served as the liaison between the 950th Transportation Company and the other organizations and units.
"Other than weather issues, the operation has run smoothly," he said. "All the units have worked great together as a team to get the job done."
"This was a well-executed mission," Korn agreed. "There were knowledgeable people from every organization involved in the operation and the 12th CAB was very well prepared. All of these contributed greatly to the overall mission success."