Aerial porters polish their skills at improved Transportation Proficiency Center

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- With a thick blanket of grey smoke hugging the ground and the pounding of mortar fire echoing in the distance, a small team of Air Force Reserve aerial porters from the 92nd Aerial Port Squadron, Wyoming Valley, Pa., decked out in full chemical protection gear, trudged from their tent toward the back of a C-130 and quickly pushed a pallet full of critical supplies onto the waiting 25K Halverson loader. 

Loading and unloading military aircraft under ideal conditions is hard enough, but, as these porters were quickly discovering on a balmy November morning, doing it in the heat of battle where mistakes or carelessness can cost lives is exponentially more difficult.

Luckily for these Reservists, the haze that covered the ground was coming from a smoke machine and the mortar sounds were coming from an air cannon. And if they made a mistake while removing the palletized cargo from the back of the Hercules, they could simply start all over again.

Welcome to the Air Force Reserve Command’s Transportation Proficiency Center at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. For more than 20 years, the TPC has been the place where Reserve aerial porters learn the ins and outs of forklifts, loaders, highline docks and pallet trains. The dedicated men and women who work at the TPC like to think of the center as the “gateway to a new experience” — a place where they can prepare Reserve aerial porters for the rigors that lie ahead.

Each year, approximately 1,000 aerial porters come to the TPC for in-residence training. The center’s instructors use cutting-edge technology to provide distance learning training to thousands more.

In years past, the instructors at the TPC had to work from a variety of different locations spread across Dobbins. Now, the TPC has its own dedicated, state-of-the-art training facility inside an aircraft hangar.

Maj. Gen. John J. Batbie Jr., AFRC vice commander, and Chief Master Sgt. James Roshak, TPC chief, cut the ribbon on the TPC’s new home last June.

“This new facility is great because it allows us to consolidate our programs into one location,” Chief Roshak said, “It’s a state-of-the-art training center with the latest technology, which helps us do a better job of making sure the command’s aerial porters are proficient and combat ready.”

TPC instructors can now use multimedia in their presentations, and the new technology allows them to better monitor student performance. But, as Chief Roshak pointed out, what still makes the TPC special is its staff of instructors.

“You can have the greatest teaching facility in the world, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless you have quality teachers,” he said. “Our instructors are all experienced aerial porters who know their stuff, and, more importantly, they know how to teach.”

While the aerial porters from the 92nd worked through some challenging scenarios in November, the TPC instructors analyzed their every move and jotted down notes to discuss during the exercise evaluation.

“Most of these guys are pretty green,” said Master Sgt. Woodley Ward. “And if they get deployed there may not be a whole lot of time for training in-theater. That’s why it’s critical that we teach them what they need to know here. They’re going to make mistakes, but it’s much better that they make them here than when they are deployed.”

In addition to the skills associated with loading and unloading aircraft, the 92nd aerial porters received a crash course in self-aid and buddy care and force protection, among other things. Master Sgt. David Jones went one on one with the Reservists to show them how to protect themselves from a possible chemical attack. With an atropine injector in hand, he quizzed the aerial porters on the different kinds of chemical attacks and what they could do to make sure they were still able to get aircraft loaded and unloaded in a contaminated environment.

“They have to get used to wearing the chem gear and still trying to do their job,” Sergeant Jones said. “It’s a difficult thing to do, but it could save their life one day.”

After two full days of training, the aerial porters from the 92nd headed back to Wyoming Valley with a greater understanding of how to do their job and the things they needed to work on in order to be combat ready. And the instructors from the TPC got ready for the next class of aerial porters, eager to lead them through their gateway to a new experience.

In addition to the Deployment Readiness Training, the TPC also conducts a variety of aerial port training to include the 3-level Apprentice Course for Retrainees, 60K Tunner Certification Course, and functional training with the Flyaway program.

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