Relocations to repatriations

by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker, 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Stripes Korea

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The eyes of a nation, and the world, converged on Osan Air Base Aug. 1 to watch as 55 cases of remains from the Korean War were repatriated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On Oct. 5, crowds gathered again at the Osan Passenger Terminal for a similar event—a Te Auraki Return Ceremony—where the remains of two New Zealand soldiers buried in Busan, Republic of Korea, were returned to their homeland.

Between high-profile events such as these and routine flights in and out of base, Airmen assigned to the 731st Air Mobility Squadron are always on hand to ensure operations continue to move efficiently.

“As soon as you put food on the sidewalk, a bunch of ants come to it,” said 1st Lt. Neal Gupta, 731st AMS Air Terminal Operations Center flight commander, from Carle Place, New York. “That’s exactly what happens when an aircraft parks. We’re that crew of ants that come to the aircraft, and without us the aircraft won’t depart on time.”

The Airmen handle everything from manifesting passengers and loading cargo to scheduling taxi and takeoff times.

“There’s a lot of logistics behind the scenes that most people don’t see about getting the aircraft perfectly in position,” said Gupta. “Everything needs to be done in order for that plane to start its engines.”

Since Airmen are so intricately involved in passenger terminal daily operations, it’s no surprise they play an important role in events like the repatriation and Te Auraki ceremonies, especially when the mission has to continue regardless of other events.

During the Te Auraki ceremony, not only did the Airmen have to react to a last minute venue change when the weather took a turn for the worst, but they also processed more than 600 personnel for inbound and outbound flights.

While the Airmen may not actually get the chance to watch the ceremonies, they are able to interact one-on-one with foreign aircrew and visitors while performing their job.

“I enjoy working with other countries,” said Senior Airman Dane Nakamura, 731st AMS passenger service supervisor, from Los Angeles. “It’s always a different experience, being able to work hand in hand with them.”

Nakamura said repatriation missions are his favorite part of the job because of the meaning behind them.

“It’s fantastic to be able to pay that respect to fallen service members.”

As negotiations continue on the Korean Peninsula, the 731st AMS and Team Osan look forward to continued repatriations until every fallen hero is accounted for.

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