"Air Force Africa" Transports Equipment, Presidential
Before President Barack Obama could land to an unprecedented
reception in Ghana July 10th, airmen, sailors and Marines were on
the ground days in advance to prepare.
More than 150 servicemembers in Ghana and more than 1,000
sailors and Marines aboard the USS Iwo Jima came together in the
West African country to form a task force to support the
president's visit July 10 and 11. The mission was conducted by 17th
Air Force, also known as Air Forces Africa, based at Ramstein Air
Base, Germany. Seventeenth Air Force is the air component for U.S.
The task force provided aerial port and aircraft maintenance
teams, forward communications, medical and helicopter support, and
early warning and air domain safety and security elements to
support the president's visit, his first to the African continent
since taking office in January.
In addition to supporting the visit, members worked with their
Ghanaian counterparts to strengthen the partnership between the two
The multiple teams that make up the task force have gelled into
a cohesive team, said Air Force Col. Mark Vijums, task force
commander. "When you are supporting the president of the United
States, our commander in chief, you deliver your absolute best, and
that's what this task force has done," Vijums said. "Everyone has
operated with a keen sense of the purpose and scope to ensure our
president and all those supporting him have everything they need
while in Ghana."
A presidential mission overseas means transporting equipment
ranging from the president's limo to the stair truck that makes it
possible for him to disembark Air Force One. Scheduling, offloading
and maintaining a stream of C-17 Globemasters were crucial in
getting the equipment to Ghana and having it in place in time for
Obama's arrival, Vijums explained.
Air Force Master Sgt. Ken Duran served as the aerial port team
chief during the operation. Deployed from the 819th Global Support
Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., his team has unloaded
every piece of equipment needed for the visit. Duran said his team
was excited about its first visit to the African continent and
about the chance to support the president.
"This is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and
something I know I will always remember," Duran said. "We are all
very excited, and the Ghanaian people are phenomenal. We've met so
many people that are smiling, friendly and engaging. It's been a
really positive experience."
While his aerial port team doesn't have all the support they
would have while conducting a similar operation at their home base,
they are well equipped, both in terms of personnel and resources,
to provide complete support to the operation in Ghana.
"This team is designed lighter and leaner and to make sure we
can handle everything that arrives on every aircraft. Also, the
17th Air Force folks have been a really big help to us," Duran
Air Force Master Sgt. Russ Killpartrick agreed that the
Ghanaians were eager to work in concert with the U.S. delegation.
The production superintendent for aircraft maintenance operations
deployed from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., where he is assigned
to the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. His team of maintainers
has attended to every C-17 touching down here.
"We provide whatever they need, usually filling them up with gas
and launching them back out," Killpartrick said. "Everyone's
excited to be here. This is the highest-priority mission we could
That point was reiterated by the commander, who said that
everyone, including sailors and Marines on the Iwo Jima, and
Marines conducting security on the ground, acted on that
"Our Marine and Naval components of this team have displayed the
highest level of dedication and professionalism, and have instilled
confidence in everyone taking part -- they are excellent at what
they do and it shows," Vijums said.