Manas Transit Center Facilitates Success in Afghanistan
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan, Dec. 15, 2012 The sounds of close-air support overhead usually signal assistance and relief to ground troops and are often referred to as “the sounds of freedom.”
If those aircraft provide the sounds, the transit center here, located about 16 miles northwest of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital city, sets the stage for them.
Air Force Col. Corey J. Martin, commander of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and director of the center, explained the pillars of the facility’s mission and the impact it has had on the war in Afghanistan.
“We have four missions at the transit center. The first one is air refueling. We've done that since the standup of the transit center, almost 11 years ago now, Martin said.
“The significance of the air refueling mission,” he said, “is that coalition aircraft over Afghanistan can almost stay airborne around the clock.”
Martin said this allows them to be able to respond within about six to eight minutes if there’s ever a call for help or anyone needs bombs or bullets onsite.
“Those are historically low numbers for response time,” he said. “The Army came into Afghanistan without as much indigenous artillery so they rely on air power, and so air refueling is a significant part of that.”
The second mission, the colonel said, is onward movement. Since the threat condition in Afghanistan doesn't allow U.S.-flagged commercial aircraft to fly personnel straight into Afghanistan, they are flown to locations like Bishkek where they transition to the fight.
Martin said the transit center makes sure troops have the final training, equipping and whatever else they need prior to going to Afghanistan.
“Closely associated with that onward movement is airlift,” Martin said. This means, he said, getting servicemen and women onto military aircraft as part of the Afghanistan deployment and redeployment process.
The final mission, Martin said, is theater security cooperation -- building partnerships and building capacity of the government of Kyrgyzstan and its military.
“The largest portion of that is humanitarian assistance, mainly focused on schools and clinics in the country,” he said. “But it also focuses on military-to-military exchanges where U.S. servicemen and women can partner up with Kyrgyz military and work on like specialties.”
With these four distinct missions, the transit center at Manas plays a crucial role in the fight in Afghanistan and also provides flexibility, the wing commander explained.
“Something of significance -- the onward movement piece recently has been [prominent] when President Obama said we would reduce to 68,000 Americans in Afghanistan by the end of September. That fell largely on the backs of the transit center to make that happen,” Martin said.
The colonel praised NATO International Security Assistance Force commander, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, for directing the exodus of 30,000 troops.
“General Allen did a great job of doing it in an organized fashion,” Martin said. “It really ended up almost seeming like business as usual. But it was a significant promise of the president that we were able to keep because we have a strategic location like this.”
There are challenges operating at such an austere location, Martin said. As much of a strategic location as Bishkek is, with its proximity to Afghanistan, it is one of the furthest places in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, he said.
“So getting supplies here is sometimes difficult,” Martin said. Also, with no hangers, all maintenance for the C-17 and KC-135 aircraft is performed in the fiercest of conditions, ranging from negative 18-degree winter temperatures to more than 100 degrees in the summer.
“So there is some austerity and some temperature extremes that present challenges,” he said. “I'm amazed with the resiliency and just the relentless nature of our [troops] that are here that overcome those challenges.”
The transit center, which will reach its 11-year anniversary in a week, has a “rich history” of service, Martin said.
“What's significant is the [center’s] eleventh anniversary is coming up next week,” he said. “Which means that it stood up in December of 2001, so just 100 days after the September 11th attacks … the flag at Manas [was raised]. And really for 11 years, it has had a significant impact on Afghanistan.”
Martin also praised the nearly 1,500 troops that serve at the transit center.
“They are very impressive,” he said. “Our airmen, every day, are interacting with Kyrgyz nationals … they are great ambassadors for the U.S. and help the Kyrgyz people see what democracy means.”