731st Special Handling has a “hand” in everything
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- A dark, mysterious storage compound rests on the edge of the Osan Air Base flightline.
Vaults litter the sulfur-smelling storage area holding items valued in the millions, with others priceless to the United States.
One small group of Airmen hold the responsibility of accepting, storing and transferring these critical items aiding in the safety and stability of the South Korea.
From a small blood sample to aircraft ammunition, the 731st Air Mobility Squadron’s special handling section assists in the distribution of critical military items to installations across the Korean Peninsula.
“We deal with everything that has potential to save a life or end it,” said Airman 1st Class Kevin Johnston, a 731st AMS special planning technician.
The 731st AMS assists all Osan AB units, but they work closely with the 51st Munition Squadron and 51st Medical Group, as well as Army and Marine units around South Korea, including the Demilitarized Zone.
“Anything they bring to the peninsula to sustain that mission goes through us, such as helicopters, bullets and grenades, to help them keep the DMZ postured,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Allen, a 731st AMS special planning supervisor.
As well as equipment, the special handlers also support the mortuary affairs capability of South Korea.
“If any of our service members sustained life-ending injuries, we would be the ones to bring their body back to the states for ceremony and recognition,” Allen said.
Depending on the situation, special handlers may be called to perform a joint inspection, which Johnston recently assisted with the U.S. Navy.
“The situation was a helicopter was landing onto a Navy carrier and it crash-landed,” Allen said. “To help, Johnston and another Airman had to travel to the location, inspect that helicopter for air worthiness and put it on a plane to be shipped back to the States.”
With the critical nature of their career, special handlers require advanced training to handle certain items.
“What I like the most about my job is its significance to the mission,” Allen said. “We can ship a 1-pound box, but the total value of that box can range in the millions of dollars. We have our hands on a lot of multi-million dollar (pieces of) equipment, and for us to support that on a daily basis is amazing to me.”