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NEWS | July 26, 2011

Aerial porters participate in forklift driving course

By Airman 1st Class Jared Trimarchi Air Mobility Rodeo 2011 Public Affairs

Mobility Airmen tested their speed, precision and teamwork skills while driving a forklift through an obstacle course, July 25 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

The 10K forklift obstacle course was laid out with more than 20 three-foot orange cones and a pallet next to a pallet stacker.

"The 10K forklift driving course is designed to evaluate how well Airmen handle the stress of maneuvering through tight spaces with a delicate load, efficiently and while ensuring safety precautions are strictly enforced," said Master Sgt. Matt Sollars, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron NCO in charge of cargo processing. "We tried to simulate a deployed environment, where space to travel for a forklift is limited and cargo must be transported in a timely matter."

Approximately 25 air mobility crews including two international crews, Belgium and Pakistan are competing in the event - each with one two-man team. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, was the first to attempt the event.

Airmen begin with 500 points available and a choice of two forklifts, a newer model or an older model. Airmen choose whichever model they are more comfortable with. After choosing which forklift to use, Airmen then do a safety inspection to ensure the vehicle is safe and ready to operate.

"Safety is our number one priority especially when handling heavy machinery, which can be dangerous if used improperly," Sollars said. "These forklifts are designed to hold 10,000 pounds and when loaded, it's hard to see what is in front of you."

After the inspection, one Airman sat behind the wheel while the other directed the movements of the driver.

"Teamwork and great communication is the key to success for this event," said Senior Airman Jeremy Jweinat, a participant for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. "You have to trust your wingman and learn to work well together."

After the timer started, the forklift loaded a wooden horse, which resembled a hurdle with a stuffed horse head on one end and black horse hair on the other. On top of the horse sat a pitcher full of water. The objective was to transport the horse while weaving through the cones without touching them or spilling the water. For each cone touched and each inch of water missing, points were deducted.

After the horse was unloaded, both Airmen competing switched positions. The new driver then loaded a pallet and placed it gently inside of a pallet stacker. The last step was to drive backwards through the cones and cross the finish line.

"It is important to train our Airmen, and teach them that the right way to do something is the only way," Sollars said. "We have to be precise when handling cargo. If you receive a package in the mail and the contents inside are broken or damaged, they have to send it back, which costs time and money. We do training like this event to ensure we do our job the right way, the first time."

According to Jweinat, the course was similar to the high stress of being deployed.

"When you're driving or directing the forklift during the course, there are guys who have been doing this for years who are watching your every move," he said. "It's stressful and fast paced, but it's important to remain focused like in any deployment."

The event was part of Air Mobility Rodeo 2011, a biennial international competition that focuses on mission readiness, featuring airdrops, aerial refueling and other events that showcase the skills of mobility crews from around the world.