TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- "Get seated as fast as possible, we have to fill this jet all the way up," said the loadmaster, giving directions to the passengers who had just entered the C-17 Globemast III from Camp Bastian Airfield, Afghanistan.
On this day, his passengers were more than 150 Marines who had been deployed for more than 365 days, and Staff Sgt. James Harp,the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster evaluator, couldn't be happier to help bring these men and women home, he said.
Bringing the men and women out of Afghanistan lets Harp see the rewards of being a loadmaster and is one of his favorite things about his job, he said.
"You can see firsthand the effect you have by doing your job," he said. "These people are going home to see family. You are literally changing people's lives by moving them. The Marines we brought home they had been deployed for more than a year, and they are telling us thanks for the ride. I see grown men bringing teddy bears and pillows with their family's picture sewn into it. You can feel the aura when someone is going home."
Harp, who has been in the Air Force for six and half years, is known for two things around the squadron here, his jokes and professionalism on the job.
Although the Lafayette, Louis., native is too modest to say much about himself, there are others who do it for him.
"I knew right away he was a devoted professional who is very concerned about the mission," said Lt. Col. Jimmy Fuller, 817th EAS director of operations. "He is our only evaluator loadmaster out here. Even though he isn't the highest ranking, he is the most influential one. He has a positive influence on the other Airmen. He gives levity, and although he provides humor he is also the upmost professional at what he is doing."
Around his squadron, Harp is known as the funny guy, but behind the jokes and laughter there is a proud, knowledgeable and often nerdy individual, he said.
"I am the brunt of most jokes, so I have to be quick," said Harp.
As a loadmaster, Harp's duty is to make sure the cargo is properly loaded and the passengers are comfortable and safe. As an evaluator, Harp grades other loadmasters to make sure they are complying with rules and safety.
"It is a respected job, and it is hard to evaluate other loadmasters," he said. "You have to put aside friendships and grade by the standard."
Harp credits his experience level to being thrown into the job when he first came into the Air Force.
"My first deployment was within a month of getting to my first duty station," he said. "I was thrown in the mix. If something was wrong with the plane, it was on you to fix the problem. In the long run it definitely helped me get to where I am. It forced you to learn."
Like many loadmasters, Harp has been around the world to include all seven continents. While Harp loves the constant change, he said it is hard leaving his two best friends at home.
"I have two twin boys, Benjamin and Jameson, so they keep me pretty busy," he said, smiling. "I have been married for five years. It does make it easier with our deployments since they are shorter, but goodbyes always suck."
As the staff sergeant finishes up his third deployment, he has gotten closer with the Airmen at the squadron.
"Deployments are a place to get to know your squadron mates, he said. "It is the best place because of the concentrated amount of time. The camaraderie is something you can't get anywhere else."
While he joined the military on a whim, Harp loves job of helping his fellow Airmen.
"I wanted a change and a challenge," Harp said. "I wanted to make a difference."