By Sgt. Duncan BrennanDecember 19, 2012
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Oct. 19, 2012) - For the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Destiny, supporting the aviation needs of ground forces is the core of the mission. In order to achieve success, the aircraft need to be at peak performance.
To maintain readiness, the mechanics are in need of a steady stream of parts to keep the maintenance process on time.
In an area as rugged as Regional Command East, the terrain and distances between maintenance locations and supply hubs can make moving parts and other time-sensitive items extremely difficult.
"Our mission is to transport cargo and personnel between five forward operating bases," said Sgt. Simon Santiago, Headquarters Support Company, 96th Aviation Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Troubleshooter, and a native of Clarksville, Tenn. "Our priority is cargo, but we will make sure everything gets moved."
Aviation supports such a broad cross section of operations. Because any lack of aircraft can be potentially life threatening, it is imperative that the aircraft are mission ready at all times. The Soldiers who operate the Eagle Express are keenly aware of this.
"This is an aviation brigade, we depend on parts," said Spc. Nicole Nelson, A Company, 96th ASB, 101st CAB, TF Troubleshooter support operations clerk, a native of Flint, Mich. "The aircraft can't get off the ground without us. The aircraft need to be in the air, not the maintenance bay."
With the draw-down of military assets in Afghanistan, transport helicopters have become a high-demand asset. To maximize the availability of TF Destiny's helicopters, other options were investigated. Whatever solution that was implemented had to quickly deliver maintenance supplies and parts.
"The Eagle Express was created to move aircraft parts to minimize the use of rotary wing aircraft," said Spc. Trisha Butler, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Battalion, 101st CAB, Task Force Eagle Assault aviation support operations liaison noncomissioned officer, or NCO, a native of Pittsburgh. "The Eagle Express is the fastest way. We have an 18-to-24-hour turnaround time."
With success on the line with the Eagle Express, the devil is in the details. With parts for the behemoth CH-47 Chinook, advanced parts for the AH-64 Apache or the workhorse UH-60 Black Hawk, tracking where and when parts arrive and ship can be a monumental task.
"I spend at least eight hours per day tracking the packages," said Butler. "Tracking the packages and ensuring that information gets reported properly is my main mission. If packages are labeled well, things go more smoothly. If packages aren't labeled well, I have to spend more time on the phone ensuring that people got what they needed."
"Between everyone that works here, we spend a total of about 11 hours per day tracking packages," said Santiago. "We move about 7,300 pounds of parts per day; it's important that we not lose track of any of it.
Aside from aircraft parts, the Eagle Express moves all kinds of cargo. Ultimately everything that the Eagle Express does goes to support the Soldiers on the ground.
"We move everything," said Spc. Kyle Laws, B Company 96th ASB, 101st CAB, TF Troubleshooter aviation support operations clerk, and a native of Darlington, S.C. "We move mail and uniforms, we also move blood for different units. We average about 80 pounds worth of blood a day."
Any mission of this magnitude has its challenges. The Soldiers executing the mission of the Eagle Express are excited to be taking charge of such a critical mission.
"At first I didn't see what we do as a big part of the brigade's operations," said Laws. "When I stepped back and looked at what we are actually doing for the brigade that relies heavily on the movement of aircraft and aircraft parts. That's solely what we do, keeping the aircraft in the air, that's what we do."
As successful as the Eagle Express is, it is the Soldiers that keep it running. This team is always seeking to make things better and expand the role of their mission.
"We'd welcome the ability to move more personnel," said Laws. "We are already preparing to move parts for ground vehicles. Moving more things and people can never hurt, it can always help somewhere or someone."
Laws is not the only one involved with the Eagle Express that feels like they are contributing to the success of the TF Destiny mission. Because of that satisfaction, everyone works diligently to ensure the Eagle Express continues to ensure that the Wings of Destiny continue to operate and support the overall mission.
"We move so much that our mission impacts division," said Santiago. "I'm lucky to have Soldiers that are as responsible as NCOs. I couldn't do my job without responsible Soldiers."