SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE ( KPLR) – Ending the war in Afghanistan is expensive and a huge challenge. Ramstein Air Base in Germany is the focal point when it comes to moving troops and supplies in and out of Afghanistan. Captain Joel Allen is with the Air Mobility Command which is headquartered at Scott Air Force Base. Allen said, “We have a very dynamic mission at Ramstein Air base.” 245,000 passengers move through here a year. While one group of troops is finally going home from Afghanistan another is heading down range, the war is not over yet. St. Louisan Sgt. Melissa Kramerick is among the first group and she’s happy to be headed back to the states, “It is fabulous, you miss the little things.”
In places like Kandahar troops are busy with retrograde, preparing some $36 billion dollars worth of inventory for shipment back to America. Staff Sgt. Justin Hemken is a Litchfield Illinois native. He’s helping with retrograde, “We’re going to see more aircraft from that area full of cargo destined for the United States.”
Moving the stuff home is expected to cost about $6 billion. The folks at Scott Air Force Base watch the process closely from the Air and Space Operations Center. They are in charge of all the aircraft and they are determined to meet the retrograde challenge. Major General Tim Zadalis with the 618th Air and Space Operation said, “It’s a giant mountain you go how are we going to move this but we very efficiently and effectively take it piece by piece.”
Back in Germany there’s another piece of the retrograde puzzle on the flight line, a C-5 just arrived from Afghanistan and it’s loaded with expensive military equipment. The cargo hold is packed with all sorts of items: winches, brand new tires, boxes containing diesel engines and a big water pump.
Loading an aircraft is a science. St. Louisan Staff Sgt. Stephen Butler has that responsibility. He uses computers to make sure every pallet is packed right and placed in the right spot so the flight is balanced. Otherwise, there could be serious problems. Butler said, “People could get injured the worst possible scenario is the plane could crash.”
Reportedly billions of dollars of military equipment is being left behind in Afghanistan, even if it’s new or in good shape. Officials say it’s not worth the cost to ship items that no longer have much use. 15 giant shredders like this one were flown in. Each machine can destroy sensitive electronics, armor plating even a military vehicle. Lt. Col. Melvin Maxwell is commander of the 721st Aerial Port Squadron at Ramstein, “Ensuring that possible unfriendly forces get to use that equipment is something that we don’t want to do.”
The job of drawing down all happens while bullets are still flying. Major General Tim Zadalis added, “Combat operations are ongoing so we are bringing everybody and everything home in the midst of combat operations”
The military is supposed to get the job done by the end of the year. But, with the way the world turns politically, with problems in Africa and Ukraine there’s seems little doubt the folks here at Ramstein and Scott will be busy for years to come.