721 APS special handling flight: Special care in air

Story and photos by Senior Airman Thomas Karol
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Robert Ezell, 721st Aerial Port Squadron hazardous cargo handler, unloads cargo from a truck on to a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, June 18. The 721st APS special handling flight is the only unit of its kind in in the European theater and ships special cargo worldwide.

The 721st Aerial Port Squadron’s Special Handling Flight uses the power of logistics to get equipment and personnel to wherever it needs to go in order to keep the mission going.
721st APS special handlers are a select group of Airmen who are trained to handle hazardous material, human remains, refrigerated materials, registered mail and ice or re-ice sensitive cargo.
“Our mission is vital to every customer that needs our support around the world,” said 2nd Lt. Alexander L. Hubbert, 721st APS/SHF officer in charge. “From a broken jet that needs a part to make it fully operational again or getting U.S. Army boots on the ground with all their equipment to make their mission happen. Special handling has a role in it.”
According to Hubbert, special handlers work with many different missions and are technically proficient in all aspects of moving cargo.
“Special handlers inspect and validate documentation of all cargo that requires special attention for shipping purposes,” said Tech. Sgt. George Cote, 721st APS/SHF noncommissioned officer in charge. “Inspecting means physically reviewing the piece of cargo and verifying that is in good physical condition for shipment via air.”
Not all cargo is the same, some require far more care.
Special handling Airmen are charged with the dignified transfer of remains of service members who died in service of the United States. The special handling flight ensures their last ride home is done with the highest amount of respect, dignity and with the highest honor possible.
“One of the most important parts of our mission is having the responsibility and the privilege of returning our fallen heroes back to U.S. soil and repatriating them properly,” Cote said. “We assist by returning human remains of fallen service members back to the U.S. with upmost respect and proper courtesies rendered while in our possession.”
No matter the mission or the cargo, the 721st APS/SHF ensures their customers get what they need, when they need it.
“I think the mission here is so important,” said Hubbert. “What we do every day directly impacts the war fighters down range. Supplying forward operating bases in Africa with rations, and providing equipment to NATO partners, all protects the U.S. National interest at a micro and macro level.”
The professionals at the special handling flight try to give five-star service to their patron’s no matter the final destination.
“When you go down range, you can count on us to deliver the resources you need in a deployed environment,” Hubbert said. “We will get you the medical equipment you need, the munitions to keep fighting, and the food and water you need to survive. We keep the warfighter going.”

Staff Sgt. William Plate, 721st Aerial Port Squadron special handling supervisor, takes a call at the 721st APS special handling office dispatch desk at Ramstein Air Base, June 18. Plate and others members of the special handling flight coordinate a large volume of cargo loading missions at Ramstein and to ensure it gets where it needs to be worldwide.