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A forklift scurries across the flight line behind a stopped Air Force C-17 Globemaster III to begin unloading cargo in the setting sun of Al Asad, Iraq, June 28. Hauling both supplies and people to and from different forward operating bases without the dangers of convoys, air travel has become a much quicker, safer and easier way to travel in Iraq.

Photo by Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Aviation provides service members safer transportation

3 Jul 2006 | Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Traveling across the sands of Iraq can be a dangerous task for the service members and civilians who attempt it, but it is a necessary risk for them when they have a job to perform at their next destination.

Without having to worry about improvised explosive devices or a 10-hour convoy trip, the service members and civilians have taken to the skies for quick and easy transportation to and from the different forward operating bases throughout the theater in Iraq.

There are two main ways the service members can travel in theater -- air support request and space available, according to Lance Cpl. George A. Bruce, clerk, Joint Airfield Operations Center, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

"Air support requests are mission required, which means the mission is pretty important" said Bruce, a 21-year-old native of Castaic, Calif. "You have to get an ASR from your chain of command, and it usually takes four to six days to process. It is a guaranteed seat on that bird, as that bird was scheduled specifically for that person with the ASR.

"Space available is not as reliable," the graduate of Bowman High School continued. "Space-A is for when you need to get somewhere, and it's not really an emergency. It's not really mission essential. It falls more under the basis of first come, first serve."

Although both provide a safer and faster method for service members to get to where they are going, the latter can be completely unpredictable when it comes to time of departure.

"The wait time is extremely random," said Bruce. "I've seen people wait for a week, and I've seen people get out the same night. If you have an ASR, you are pretty much guaranteed to get out that night unless there are mechanical or weather problems. Space-A all depends on where you need to go."

The system used is not difficult to navigate, even for the less-frequent travelers in Iraq, as it is well organized, according to Sgt. Gabriel C. Picard, operations chief, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

"The only thing difficult about it is the waiting, but you are going to do that in a civilian airport, too," said Picard, a 22-year-old Pottstown, Pa., native traveling from Al Asad to Ballad, Iraq. "I'd rather be here waiting for a few hours than riding on a 10-hour convoy somewhere."

The service members and civilians aren't just left out in the blazing sun while waiting on their flights to arrive. They are provided with a small lounge where they can sleep, play cards, listen to music, watch TV or do a number of other activities to pass the time.

However, once their flight arrives, they know it will only be a short while longer before they will be standing at their destination.

"Air travel gets the people where they need to go," concluded Picard, a graduate of Chapel Christian Academy. "Without that kind of support, we wouldn't have the kind of readiness that we have, because we wouldn't be able to get anywhere on time."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing