09/06/05 — 916th will send airmen to aid overseas mission

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916th will send airmen to aid overseas mission

By Turner Walston
Published in News on September 6, 2005 1:48 PM

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base personnel are not just assisting with the recovery efforts in New Orleans, they are continuing their support of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

Beginning this week, about 150 airmen from the 916th Air Refueling Wing are deploying to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

"Every 20 months now is when we do our rotation," said Col. Paul Sykes, 916th commander. Rotations have been extended from 90 to 120 days to help maintain consistency.

"It works well both for the stability back at home, and it keeps more assets for the commanders in the area of responsibility," Sykes said.

Col. Mark Kolleda from the 916th is serving as the 385th Air Expeditionary Group commander. He's responsible for the cargo going in and out of Incirlik.

"It's certainly exciting and it certainly is real. The tempo is fast," Kolleda said.

He said he is working 10 to 15-hour days, seven days a week, and hasn't had a day off since July 29. And he won't get one until he heads home in early October.

"But that's OK," Kolleda said Friday. "Things go fast, and there are so many things to do around here."

In the past, cargo to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were flown through Incirlik from Frankfurt, Germany. Now, Incirlik serves as the primary base for cargo, supporting bases in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

This month, KC-135 Stratotankers from the 916th are refueling C-5, C-17 and KC-10 aircraft.

Kolleda works to coordinate operations between the three bases, aircrafter maintenance personnel and air crews, squadron commanders and detachments in foreign countries.

"A lot of coordination goes on daily, and basically I'm here to help them if they run into issues," he said.

Aircraft out of Incirlik are carrying a wide range of supplies, from toilet paper to body armor. And they're carrying a lot of it.

"Cargo we carry is usually anywhere between 500,000 pounds to 800,000 pounds a day," Kolleda said.

Kolleda said the reservists work alongside the active-duty airmen "and you can't tell us apart."

Back at Seymour Johnson Friday afternoon, 25 more members of the 916th prepared to deploy to Incirlik.

Full-time reservists Master Sgt. Maureen Rivera and Staff Sgt. Ian Gardner are familiar with deployments. Rivera will schedule flight missions, inspections and keep track of maintenance on the KC-135s. Gardner will work with survival equipment, re-packing parachutes, life preservers and other gear.

"My job is basically to make sure they stay focused and to reassure them that their families will be taken care of," said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Smith, prior to briefing the deploying airmen.

He said the airmen would experience a full gamut of emotions.

"If you're not nervous, something's wrong with you," he said. "But as soon as your feet hit the ground, it's over."

On any other day, Staff Sgt. Augusto Olkeriil would be delivering mail. Friday, he deployed to Turkey.

A traditional reservist, Olkeriil works with avionics systems in the aircraft. "My mission actually starts now," Olkeriil said, referring to the avionics equipment in his bag.

Sykes said about 150 people will deploy from the wing this month, and 75 to 100 will be in Incirlik at any given time. They represent the breadth of the 916th.

"We're sending our pilots, our maintainers our intelligence shop. We have our communications folks, we have transportation, LRS (Logistics Readiness Squadron). And we also have some operational support folks that handle the administrative paperwork."

The deploying airmen represent about half traditional reservists, and half full-time personnel. Sykes said the traditional reservists come from companies such as IBM, Red Hat, Delta, Pepsi, Wachovia and Nortel. "Just about everybody."

"It's a new concept here that we're becoming quite quickly the poster child for Air Mobility Command," Kolleda said of operations at Incirlik. "It's the streamlining. All these theater commanders working together, and the amount of cargo we move is insurmountable. It's incredible."

"I'm very happy that they selected me to come over here and do such an important job," Kolleda said. "It give me a chance to give something back to this great nation of ours."