Military Heroes: Squadron charged with global cargo and personnel movement

Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2023 at 7:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - They’re charged with moving cargo and personnel around the world -- anytime, anywhere. The 437th Aerial Port Squadron plays a crucial role as a power projection platform supporting all Department of Defense entities for the Southeast Region.

“Day to day is very busy,” Atlanta Whittington, operations officer with the 437th Aerial Port Squadron, says. “There are a lot of big moving equipment pieces that we have here. Everything from major forklifts, trucks, cargo, lots of things happening all at once. The good thing about our team here is that we have a team of dedicated military and civilian professionals. They work together day in and day out to make sure that we’re doing this safely and appropriately to provide all of this cargo to our customers.”

They deal with hundreds of pieces of cargo every day. A couple of challenges include the need for rapid response on a global and geographically separated scale.

“We are a port pier so we ship, receive, and process everything that you can imagine,” Whittington says. “Charleston is very unique in that it is a rail, air and transportation port. We are the centerpiece to transport everything globally both through and around Joint Base Charleston.”

On average, the 437th deals with 650 tons a month. And when you think about all of the equipment and food and supplies they’re moving - it takes some muscle.

“We’re out on the aircraft pushing these pallets onto the aircraft, pushing them onto our K-loaders and the wheels aren’t the best so we definitely have to put some back into it and we definitely feel it at the end of the day,” Jackie Keesee, the ramp operations section chief, says.

Supervisors come in daily before any of the shifts start. They look at what missions they have for the day, which airmen are on duty and place people in the correct positions -- like cargo and ramp operations.

“When a piece or a part comes inside, the first thing we do obviously is sign for from the carrier, we accept accountability for that part and then we actually open the box and there’s a document that comes with the box that tells us what’s inside of the box -- the quantity and where it’s going to go on Joint Base Charleston,” Leroy Ridgel, an Installation Transportation officer, says. “So, the team behind me, they open a package. They inspect the part make sure there’s no damage and also make sure that we got what was intended for us in terms of quantity and things like that. And then after we do that then we turn it over to our counterparts and maintenance and then that’s when they put it on an aircraft.”

In September, Joint Base Charleston and the 437th took on the Guantanamo Bay mission. It’s a weekly rotation of rations, mail, cargo and anything they can get down to Guantanamo Bay.

In fact -- it’s the only way the 6,000 personnel at Guantanamo Bay get anything. They ship out about a full plane of cargo a week - the crew takes it down to Guantanamo Bay and then immediately returns to Joint Base Charleston.

“My favorite part about the job would have to be seeing all the impact that we do with humanitarian aid with our Norfolk-GTMO Mission,” Matthew James D’Ostroph, a Staff Sergeant at the Air Terminal Operations Center, says. “Just seeing everything that we’re doing for those countries and supporting and assisting down range.”

The 437th also provides a passenger terminal where military members and their families are able to hop on extra seats on a flight and go wherever that flight is going.

The passenger terminal just underwent a $21 million renovation and has continually seen an uptick in people utilizing that option.