Story by Staff Sgt. Ian Shay
143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command
MANAS, Kyrgyzstan- Over the last 12 years Manas Air Base has served as a primary gateway for deploying and re-deploying transient soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, contractors, as well as coalition forces entering theater operations in Afghanistan. The transient population only spends a few days here en route to their final destinations, but many moving parts are required to get them on their way.
One of the most critical functions under the Army’s control in Manas is customs’ operations, where soldiers from the 391st Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Columbus, Ohio, currently perform.
“When service members return from theater, they touch ground here,” said 1st Lt. Lucas Pace, commander, custom’s program manager, 391st MP Battalion, Det 5. Their bags come through our yard and our facility.”
Even with operations in Afghanistan coming to a close, service members are still passing through Manas at a high rate.
“Any given day we could process five people or up to 2,000. Total so far we’ve processed over 78,000 service members, as well as 100,000 service members bags since end of June,” said Pace.
These Soldiers work 24/7 to fulfill an integral part of transient operations, ensuring all service members, contractors and foreign military allies pass through safely and securely.
“It varies from day-to-day; I could be doing anything from searching bags, briefing soldiers, running scanners as well as tagging bins to go out on the flight line,” said Spc. Joshua Denny, customs agent, 391st MP Battalion, Det 5.
During the customs process soldiers of the 319st have the large undertaking of ensuring the safety and security of everyone passing through.
“When checked bags come through we’re looking for flammable aerosols and lithium batteries that can start fires underneath the plane in the cargo hold,” said Denny.
Soldiers coming home from theater can often times pick things up that require proper disposal.
“The main thing we look for is any brass, especially if it is not expended. Other things we’re looking [for] are war trophies, illegal drugs or money,” said Pace.
391st soldiers remain inspired by Manas and its unique history. Originally named after Pete Ganci, New York City’s former fire chief, who died saving lives during the attacks of 9/11. It is his memory and the 9/11 attacks that remain a dedicated reminder to those serving here.
“We have a piece of the world trade center from one of the beams of one the towers that went down during the 9/11 attack, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Tillman, shift supervisor, 391st MP Battalion, Det 5.
“It’s a reminder of why we’re here, to support the soldiers who are fighting the war on terror,”
Typically processing between 400 and 500 transients daily, the soldiers working here find true inspiration in their work.
“[The] most rewarding aspect is seeing the soldiers come in,” said Tillman. “Soldiers are always in a good mood, because they’re getting ready to go home . . . a lot of them have had a long deployment downrange in harsh conditions.”
The Army’s workload here falls under the control of Lt. Col. Robert J. Neeley, Army Central liaison officer command cell officer-in-charge, 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 1st Theater Sustainment Command, and Sgt. Maj. Thomas M. Schultz, ARCENT liaison officer command cell noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 143d ESC, 1st TSC. Neeley and Schultz are Reserve Soldiers who oversee all Army personnel in Manas, manage and coordinate deploying and redeploying units going to and from Afghanistan.
“We’re basically getting our hands on everybody that is coming in and out of Afghanistan . . . we try and make it as smooth and painless as possible,” said Neeley. “It’s very rewarding. The elements that we have here from the Army Reserve, National Guard and active component work together seamlessly. It’s a great team.”
With transient operations soon transitioning over to Romania, the 391st offers offered some words of advice.
“It’s a great job; you should feel honored to do this job,” said Pace. “It’s our brothers and sisters that our coming through us to go home…treat them with respect, treat them with dignity, understand what they went through and make sure to focus on the mission and get them home to their families,” said Pace.