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Air Load Team - Tarin Kot

(L-R) Leading Aircraftman Patrick Mullen and Corporal Ben Lavender of the Air Load Team - Tarin Kot prepare to load a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules.

“It’s like mastering Sudoku and Tetris in one hit.”

This is how Warrant Officer Peter Evans, the Operations Warrant Officer of the Combat Support Unit Air Load Team – Tarin Kot, described the work of an Air Terminal Operator.

Combat Support Unit’s Air Load Team in Tarin Kot will boost its strength to 15 members as the multinational base ramps up for the ADF’s end of mission in Uruzgan.

The current team of 10 personnel are handling up to 30 RAAF aircraft movements each week, including C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemasters.

Warrant Officer Evans said his team were a lot more than just baggage handlers.

“Every member of the Combat Support Unit Air Load Team is a complete air terminal package,” he said.

“With their skill sets they can identify, plan and build a load, then balance an aircraft and load it.

“We are currently back loading the equipment and stores no longer required as the ADF reduces its inventory of equipment in the Middle East Area of Operations.”

All military equipment being remediated from Tarin Kot is processed by the Force Support Unit freight distribution centre.

In the last three months the team have loaded and unloaded approximately 1,814, 369 kg of cargo, vehicles and personnel.

Warrant Officer Evans said his role was to identify load requirements up to a month in advance and coordinate all required to arrange for efficient loading. 

“To execute these plans is Flight Sergeant Wayne Harrison who runs the day to day operation,” he said.  

“The OIC (Officer in Charge), Flying Officer James Clements, is responsible for shaping the last few months and fitting the air load team into the larger withdrawal plan.

“The backbone however is the strength and resilience of the seven airmen and women of the team.”

In the coming weeks and months the ADF plans to return approximately 100 pallets of general cargo from Afghanistan per fortnight.

This material is flown from Afghanistan to Al Minhad Air Base, unloaded by Combat Support Unit Air Load Teams and then transported by road into Dubai before being loaded on ships for Australia under the coordination of the Force Support Unit and the Joint Movements Control Centre.

Add personnel and vehicles to this and the Combat Support Unit’s Air Load Team can potentially be handling up to eight aircraft moves each day.

The ADF is using cargo ship moves to bring home major materiel to Australia including Australian Light Armoured Vehicles, Bushmasters, Unimogs and general cargo loads, which have included vehicle components, uniforms and weapon mounts.

The ADF will work closely with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to ensure all quarantine requirements are met before material is imported back into Australia.

Warrant Officer Evans said it was a physically orientated workplace with a requirement to lift heavy items above head height when building pallets in the hot, dusty environment. 

“The job also is mentally taxing with the requirement for numerous calculations to ensure sufficient restraint, aircraft limits are not exceeded and the aircraft is balanced,” Warrant Officer Evans said.

“We deal with a lot of interesting and mentally challenging loads, but if I have the information early I can create a proper plan on how to deal with them.

“Each load is different and requires examination on how to fit it into an aircraft for example the Mine Rollers which attach to the front of vehicles.

“These required a fair bit of twisting, turning and shoring to get them onto a pallet in a size and shape that would fit into an aircraft.”