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AMC personnel unload giant Russian-made airlifter

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (USTCNS) --- He holds two bachelors degrees, two masters degrees and four Federal Aviation Administration certifications. He has commanded both at squadron and group levels and has traveled to 106 countries on six continents. But, none of that could have prepared Col. Richard Walberg for the challenge he was to face here Oct. 21.

Colonel Walberg, the 818th Contingency Response Group and 24th Air Expeditionary Group commander, peered in as the cargo door opened on the Russian-made Antonov 225 -- the world's largest aircraft. Inside, he found nearly 35,000 loosely bundled blankets and more than 80 tons of canned tuna, donated from the Ukraine to help the people of Pakistan following a devastating earthquake earlier this month.

Assigned to the 18th Air Force, Scott AFB, Ill., the 818th CRG deployed here just two days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck.

The colonel's unit is responsible primarily for the offload of humanitarian aid from U.S. aircraft. However, his unit often responds to requests for support from other countries.

"The [Chaklala Air Base] air wing commander came to me personally to request our assistance," Colonel Walberg said. "You think back on all of the things they taught you in school. But then, they open the door and you see 170 metric tons of humanitarian aid strapped to the bare floor. I've been moving cargo for quarter of a century, and I have never seen anything like that."

The difficulty faced by the CRG members was the way the cargo had been loaded into the aircraft.

"In a U.S. aircraft, the cargo would have been palletized, but the Antonov doesn't have roller conveyers or dual rails to roll out pallets, so it was all just strapped to the floor," said Master Sgt. John Brooks, ramp coordinator. "They told us it took 24 hours to load the aircraft. My back began to hurt as soon as they opened that door."

The CRG members, along with numerous volunteers from the Pakistani Air Force, began the download. starting with the blankets. Despite the amount of work they faced, the mood of those involved was upbeat, accented with the sound of laughter and smiles visible on the faces of most members, said Colonel Walberg.

"With so many bundles of blankets being thrown inside the plane, it looked like a massive pillow fight," added the colonel.

"We brought out all five of our forklifts, loaded them each with a pallet, and hand loaded the bundles onto the pallets," said Master Sgt. Perry O'Brien, an air transportation specialist. "We then offloaded the blankets into a giant pile in a field."

Forty-five pallets and two and a half hours later, the CRG had managed to offload all of the blankets. Their attention then shifted to the tuna.

"The tuna was wrapped in packages of 16 cans," said Sergeant O'Brien. "We pulled three of the forklifts to the cargo door, and volunteers from [the] Pakistani Army loaded the pallets. We had to be careful about the weight. The forklifts can only safely carry about 10,000 pounds, so we only loaded them to about 9,000 pounds each."

The Pakistanis were the key to the quick offload of the tuna, according to Maj. Ken D'Alfonso, the global mobility readiness commander. They formed three lines from the cargo, deep in the aircraft, to the three forklifts outside.

"My friend, Flight Lt. Nawaz Aamer, Chaklala chief of police, came to me with a proposal" said Major D'Alfonso. "Aamer suggested we leverage his pool of manpower with our three forklifts and form three separate lines of 50 people each to empty the plane. His plan worked like a charm. Reflecting on this later, I realized Americans tend to solve problems with our technology; the culture here focuses on manpower. Sometimes coalition operations mean synergizing the two. I learned a lot from the experience."

The tuna offload lasted about an hour and involved the loading of 20 pallets.

"When we were done, every piece of cargo on that aircraft had been touched by a human hand," said Colonel Walberg. "It was a monumental effort."

"The logistics of moving that much cargo by hand was incredible," added Sergeant Brooks. "I think it's safe to say that an operation like this has never been done before and, hopefully, never will [have to] be done again."

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