Atlantic Paradise

721st Aerial Port Squadron Operating Location-ALPHA personnel pose for a photo with Lt. Col. Travis R. Bohanan and Chief Master Sgt. Matthew G. Messner during their visit to the unit, May 13, 2019. The 721 APS OL-A provides AMC en route support and Rapid Global Mobility to transient aircraft through Lajes Field, Azores.  Photo by Ricky Baptista

After being assigned to the same unit three different times, one would think it would be the same or maybe become easier each time. Yet for me, it has always been a new and different challenge with an uncertain excitement leading up to it. I was first assigned in 2003 to the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron then returned in 2012 shortly after it was renamed the 721st Aerial Port Squadron; both located at Ramstein Air Base. Now, I leave the same unit in 2020 but under the name of the 721st Aerial Port Squadron Operating Location-ALPHA, and located on Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal.

Same unit as before, but now detached from Ramstein Air Base. Coincidently, I have worn all of my ranks under this great unit. This time, I had the opportunity to lead this Geographically Separated Unit as the ranking member on site. It brought many challenges and uncertainties, but as my ninth Permanent Change of Station in my short career — the Azores has been a memorable experience and an absolute highlight!

Located just under 2,000 miles from the continental United States, and approximately 900 miles from mainland Portugal, the Azores Islands, or Ilhas dos Açores in Portuguese, lay as a strategic platform in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Terceira Island, the archipelago paradise which hosts Lajes Field otherwise known as Base Aérea Nº 4, is rich with history, volcanic shores, unforgettable panoramic views and some of the most amazing food, vibrant culture and caring people one could ever imagine. Calling this place home for the last year has been a privilege and I now fully understand why many before me have spoken so highly of it. The US military has maintained a presence here since World War II and we continue to build relationships and partnerships with the hopes of a better tomorrow.

721 APS OL-A personnel participating during the 86th Airlift Wing Exercise OPERATION VARSITY 19-04, 11 December 2019. Unit members were receiving hands-on training during the loading of a fuel truck on a C-130J from Ramstein. Photo by Ricky Baptista

Previously called the 729th Air Mobility Squadron, the 721 APS OL-A is a small part of the larger Air Mobility Command structure, yet unique and irreplaceable. Our mission is to execute Full Spectrum Ready Aerial Port capabilities supporting the North Atlantic Air Bridge by expediting Rapid Global Mobility. We operate under the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing and the 721st Air Mobility Operations Group, both also located at Ramstein Air Base. Our team directly supports all Lajes Field personnel by coordinating air shipments for the Defense Commissary Agency. Additionally, the 721 APS OL-A handles all household goods in and out of the island through our enroute aircraft channel missions which allows for members stationed here to feel more at home and be at ease. 

We work closely with our United States Air Forces in Europe Command host which defends freedom from the Equator to the Northern Arctic. As a direct tenant to the 65th Air Base Group, we collaborate our efforts and allow their mission to be executed in supporting multiple operational theaters from the US to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East while also partnering with our fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization member in the Portuguese Armed Forces and the local Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores.

The 721 APS OL-A unit is mostly comprised of Portuguese civilian nationals, many of whom have been a consistent part of the US mission for over 30 years while the military members rotate through. There have been many drastic phases of change throughout the years, but the construct of aerial port logistics’ services have always existed in Lajes Field and our historic unit has been at the forefront.

Aerial port logistics’ services have always existed at Lajes Field. Aircraft were lined up to be serviced in 1955. Lajes Field today continues to provide a power projection platform for ongoing operations related to U.S. and allied national security issues. It also involves maintaining the critical infrastructure needed to support high volume combat operations. U.S. Air Force Photo

This assignment brought an added perspective of gratefulness, joy, leadership, and pride. It showed me the importance of how teamwork and the continued efforts toward excellence can prevail, even in times of hardship. Our team of professionals sometimes worked long hours and accomplished what at times seemed challenging and daunting tasks, but what never changed was our camaraderie and willpower to accomplish the mission. We worked as a unit and at the end of each day, we went home knowing there was no better way for the job to have been accomplished. I am extremely proud to have been given this great opportunity and the prestigious honor to lead this amazing team, and even prouder to know they will continue the mission just as they did before I ever arrived.

Officially, in the 721 APS, we are Aerial Port Specialists, but we are all known as “Port Dawgs,” a title which comes with great pride and responsibility, but more importantly, it embodies respect within our logistics community. Here in the 721 APS OL-A at Lajes Field, we follow the Port Dawg mentality and allow the world’s greatest Air Force to continue its unmatched air superiority and reliable air mobility system.