721st APS knows its cargo

Story and photo by Airman 1st Class Hailey Haux
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Taking charge of cargo, passengers and the many processes that go into loading an aircraft, the 721st Aerial Port Squadron’s mission is to develop Airmen, provide air transportation services at Ramstein and sustain three combatant commands.
The 721st APS was responsible for helping move more than 65,722 tons of cargo, 285,735 passengers and 16,000 aircraft last year.

None of that could be done without the help of the many sections within the 721st APS.

“The load planning flight selects cargo for movement based on destination, priority and system entry time to fully maximize usable space on aircraft with cargo and passengers,” said Senior Master Sgt. Rich Rizzo, 721st APS squadron operations superintendent. “They ensure safety of flight by determining center of balance with all cargo selected for movement.”

With help from the load planning section, the cargo processing flight helps build, weigh, measure, secure, cap and process all originating cargo for movement via air.

“They also help with the breakdown of terminating cargo, make sure everything is accounted for and segregate it for onward movement via surface,” Rizzo said.

While the cargo processing section is responsible for building and breaking down each pallet, the Mechanized Material Handling System sorts each pallet to expedite loading procedures.

 “We use the MMHS to help us prioritize and move pallets,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Stirewalt, 721st APS load planning supervisor.

The MMHS can move cargo easily, and has pictures from four different angles. It also has a 3-D picture for the load planner to use while planning where cargo needs to go on an aircraft.

“Having to move and palletize 42 pallets of cargo at any other base can take up to an hour,” Stirewalt said. “With the MMHS, it cuts that time down drastically, therefore helping us keep the mission moving.”

Helping with the loading and unloading of cargo is the special handling and in-transit munitions sections. Special handling is in the name and it’s also a part of what they do.

“Our sections handle all human remains, hazardous material, refrigerated materials, registered mail and ice or re-ice sensitive cargo,” said Master Sgt. Christian Peters, 721st NCOIC of special handling. “We additionally prepare and inspect the cargo.”

Airmen are trained in a one-week course that certifies them as hazardous materials inspectors.

“Getting hazardous materials cleared takes a lot of coordinating with the German government to make sure the cargo is authorized,” Peters said.

All the hazardous cargo must be precisely packaged and handled properly.

“Everyday our Airmen have to ensure the safe packaging and loading of hazardous material, which is key to guaranteeing the ‘safety of flight’ for the multimillion dollar cargo, aircraft, passengers and aircrew onboard,” Peters said.

None of the cargo movements could be done without the help of ramp services, Rizzo said. They provide the safe and timely loading and unloading of cargo on a wide variety of commercial and military aircraft.

“Being a part of the 721st and knowing that by doing my job it helps get loved ones home to their families is very rewarding,” Peters said.

Just by doing their day-to-day job, the 721st APS helps the mission at home in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

“The movement of fallen warriors through Ramstein back to CONUS is a sobering reminder that there are military service members in close contact with the enemy,” said Lt. Col. Melvin Maxwell, 721st APS commander. “We understand those members depend on Airmen of the 721st APS to do our jobs effectively to ensure they are sustained.”

(Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series on 721st APS operations.)