***image1***Among the Dutch F-16s and NATO troops zooming by on bicycles, the703rd Munitions Support Squadron is located on Volkel Air Base, The Netherlands.
The squadron, which is assigned to the 38th Combat Support Wing headquartered on Kapaun Air Station, has 140 personnel and operates much like a small wing with unique challenges.
The squadron has been located at the Dutch base since the 1960s and provides safe, reliable munitions support to NATO, said Maj. Theresa McGowan, 703rd MUNSS deputy commander. The squadron is responsible for the ownership, accountability, custody maintenance and release of assigned U.S. titled weapons.
Although the squadron’s primary mission is munitions, there are 29 Air Force specialty codes in the squadron to include security forces, personnel, chaplain and command post, said Capt. John Ponton, 703rd MUNSS Mission Support Flight commander.
The closest U.S. military installation is Spangdahlem Air Base, which is located 175 miles away. In order to accommodate Airmen, the squadron developed into a mini wing to include a fitness center, MPF, dining facility, family support center as well as other support units.
“We face challenges most fully functioning wings don’t face,” said Major McGowan. “Many of our units have a staff of one or two personnel so if someone is sick or TDY, there may not be a backfill for the job.”
“Often times a senior airman will do the job of a master sergeant because of our unique organization,” she said.
In fact, all non-maintenance personnel pull security forces augmentee duty, said Major McGowan. They go through rigorous training for the augmentee duty and outsiders often cannot tell the difference between the security forces and the augmentees, she said.
Some other challenges facing the squadron are procuring an ATM that would enable personnel to withdraw dollars. Currently there is a cash cage that operates three days a week during limited hours, said Captain Ponton. An ATM is scheduled to arrive in the squadron’s main building in a few weeks.
Another challenge is child care. The service is very expensive in the Dutch community costing approximately €800 each month, said Major McGowan.
The squadron is solving the issue by building a child development center, expected to be completed by fall inside the pre-existing chapel annex. The new center will allow squadron members affordable and quality child care at a convenient location.
***image2***The squadron has embraced some challenges with creativity. The sole chaplain for the squadron recruited a Catholic priest from a nearby town to hold mass on base. Since the chaplain serves neighboring bases as well as Volkel, he holds one of his many services on Wednesday nights to accommodate all the bases.
The squadron has also managed to keep a 40-student Department of Defense Dependent Schools K-6 school afloat, located five minutes from the base.
The school is the closest DODDS school within a two-hour radius, said Barbara Laffoley, Volkel American Elementary School principal.
Thanks to the leadership of the 38th CSW and the squadron’s creativity, several of the challenges facing the 703rd MUNSS have been resolved, 703rd MUNSS staffers said.
This truly unique squadron enjoys their time at the Dutch base operating
as what many would call a “mini wing.”