By 1st Lt. Juan Torres Jr., 2-13 CavMarch 10, 2010
As the engines of approaching helicopters roar in the distance, flight operations at the Task Force Saber air cell at Contingency Operating Station Hunter once again prepare to receive aircraft that support troop movements all across southern Iraq.
"Controlling our aerial assets around Hunter is a 24-hour-a-day job that requires continuous coordination, including the human resources section, when arranging troop movement," said Sgt. Eric Johnson, a fire support specialist and member of the TF Saber air cell assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, based in Sonoma, Calif.
The 1st Infantry Division's "Big Red Express," cycles a steady flow of Soldiers through COS Hunter and beyond. Ever-adapting, this invaluable air asset calls for the synchronization of both the air cell and human resources section to facilitate passenger and cargo movement.
Last-minute changes and cancellations due to weather and mechanical issues require flexibility and constant communication with pilots, as well as brigade-level air cells. Keeping immediate lines of communication open with aircraft is the responsibility of Johnson and his Soldiers.
"It's so important to maintain constant communication in order to manage multiple pieces of 'air'coming in for landing - as well as for those operating in our vicinity," said Johnson.
Commonly referred to as "air de-confliction," the air cell has the responsibility of managing simultaneous flights, including passenger movement, reconnaissance and refueling missions.
"We've had every piece of 'air' possible flying at one time. It can get kind of messy up there at times," said Johnson referring to the CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, C-130 planes and Shadow UAVs that fly around southern Maysan Province.
On the ground, confirming approaching flight times with the air cell, is Staff Sgt. Armando Ortiz, a human resources specialist from Ponce, Puerto Rico, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop.
"Once the birds are on the ground, I control the flow of incoming and outgoing personnel," said Ortiz.
Ortiz and others from the human resources section are responsible for ensuring that personnel are properly manifested on future flights and for receiving Soldiers as they land.
"As soon as the birds arrive, the flight crew chiefs and I discuss the number of seats available and try to put as many Soldiers on as possible," said Ortiz.
Unfortunately, all the planning, with confirmed times and dates, is ultimately at the mercy of weather.
"In bad weather, when it looks like flights are cancelled, I am in contact with [Task Force Saber] air in order to have the latest updates on weather and adjusted flight times," said Ortiz. "I never want to see Soldiers stranded."
Though sometimes taken for granted, Soldiers on the ground such as Johnson are continuously coordinating daily air operations at COS Hunter, providing quick and convenient transit across southern Iraq.