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Feature Stories

NEWS | Sept. 6, 2020

Army Aviation Airfield Management - An Element of their Own

By Story by Sgt. Sydney Mariette 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade

Ensuring the Camp Taji airfield remained operational during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Camp Taji, Iraq, and up until the day of the transfer ceremony to the Government of Iraq on Aug. 23, 2020, fell to the small yet effective Airfield Management Element (AME) with the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.

"The Soldiers of the AME, Sgt. 1st Class Sharp, Sgt. Sawatzky and Master Sgt. Ryan, were required to be jack-of-all-trades during the closing days,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ryan Taggart, officer in charge for the AME section.

This team, consisted of Taggart, Master Sgt. David Ryan III, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Sharp, and Sgt. Alexander Sawatzky. Under normal circumstances their missions consists of organizing airfield maintenance and providing oversight of all takeoff and landing operations to the airfield. However, with a hard deadline for the transfer of Camp Taji, Taggart and his team worked tirelessly to keep the airfield operational despite a compressed timeline for runway repairs, increased flight traffic and unexpected interruptions.

“Sgt. 1st Class Sharp was instrumental in his ability to operate a forklift, which allowed us to move equipment and materials efficiently to support the base transfer,” said Taggart. “The relationships Master Sgt. Ryan had built on Camp Taji was invaluable to our efforts. His influence and convincing personality enabled all key players on the base closure team to execute large scale projects with contract support.”

Taggart said his team of Soldiers were significant contributors in accomplishing the AME’s changes in mission priorities effectively and on time. Additionally, an aircraft crash through another kink in their plans
June 8, 2020, when a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed while landing, obstructing the end of the runway and restricting lift capability to the entire airfield.

“We had to coordinate with U.S. Air Force and National Guard Bureau to ensure the timely removal of the air frame to continue fixed wing operations,” said Taggart. “A process that can take several months had to be executed in a month and a half.”

With the crash removed, an expedited, yet thorough, repair of the runway was initiated with the support of the 371th Marine Wing Support Detachment. Despite limited resources, Taggart and his team completed a six-month process just two months.

“We repaired 142 individual spots on the runway that were crumbling from the pressure of the landing aircraft,” said Taggart. “The project was completed on time, with minimum impact to fixed wing lift capability.”
In addition to all of their efforts on the runway, the AME team also led the charge in cleaning up “Zombie Land”, a section of Camp Taji that had collected rubble over many years.

“Every member of the team put forth considerable effort to use minimal resources to clean up the mess that was left by previous rotations,” said Taggart. “Sgt. 1st Class Sharp and Sgt. Sawatzky spent countless hours picking rebar from the rubble piles. Master Sgt. Ryan worked with the Army engineers to help level the rubble piles, and was the on ground coordinator with the Iraqis once we requested their assistance. Without the support of the U.S. Army engineers and the Iraqi engineers, we would not have been able to accomplish the Zombie Land cleanup, which was one of Col. Fix’s (34th ECAB Commander/Camp Taji Commander) priorities for the transfer of Camp Taji.”

Taggart and his AME team were called upon to do substantially more than they had expected at the start of this deployment. Yet they met the challenge head on, ensuring all necessary support for aviation operations and base clean-up was provided until the very end when the U.S. military relinquished responsibility of the base and transferred Camp Taji to the Government of Iraq.