In Syria and Iraq, a well-equipped and well-funded ISIS army has spread across the two countries, taking over towns and terrorizing and dislocating thousands of people.

In Liberia, the Ebola virus has spread across the West African country, crippling its economy, overwhelming government resources, and creating food shortages and transportation disruptions.

The two crises are widely different but have one common need: the help and extended reach of the massive cargo and tanker planes flying out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

Cavernous C-17 Globemaster III's are carrying much-needed food and medical supplies to Liberia while KC-10 Extenders are aerially refueling U.S. aircraft striking at the heart of ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

On Thursday, Air Force officials described the crucial missions of the mammoth planes that stood on nearby runways.

The effort is being conducted by the 514th and 305th Air Mobility Wings and 621st Contingency Response Wing that use the base's 32 KC-10s and 15 C-17s. This year the KC-10 marks its 20th anniversary at the base and the C-17 its 10th.

"We provide airlift anywhere in the world, day or night," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ken Burch. "We offer any type of logistics."

Said Lt. Col. Erik Simonsen: "What you see here is global reach. This is kind of a unique location and truly a strategic operating location where missions leave daily."

Thursday's event - showcasing the base's value to military and humanitarian missions around the world - came as the state works on strategies for inoculating the Joint Base and other military installations from being closed by the Defense Department.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno chairs the New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force, which includes Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, adjutant general for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton.

Saxton has said that installations such as the Joint Base are likely to face new closure threats as the nation cuts back on military spending.

The military structure is again shrinking, Saxton said in an interview over the summer, "and once again we find ourselves with base structures we don't need. There's a good chance we could have a 2017 [base realignment and closure commission]."

The sprawling 60-square-mile Joint Base in Burlington and Ocean Counties provides 40,000 military and civilian jobs and contributes $7 billion each year to the state economy, according to a Rutgers University study. It also supports 65,000 off-base jobs.

Under a new Obama administration initiative, the U.S. has begun transporting up to 3,000 service members, including medical personnel, engineers, administrators and transportation officials, to build, supply and oversee a series of treatment units across Liberia. The effort has been dubbed Operation United Assistance.

"We just got back last week," said Air Force Capt. Mike Watkins, who helped deliver the cargo needed "to start setting up a staging base. We brought in Air Force personnel and supplies, the infrastructure," he said.

The C-17s are loaded up at the Joint Base, then fly directly to Liberia, carrying Air Force personnel and cargoes "to people in need," said Maj. Brant Dixon. "We are relatively busy."

Before the deliveries could begin flowing in, though, preparations had to be made.

"We're setting up a port to receive more supplies," said Capt. Afton Brown who, like Watkins, flew a C-17 to Liberia last week. "There's no specific end in sight" for the mission.

While in Liberia, officials are "trying to keep the aircrews as safe as possible," Brown said. "We're not interacting with Ebola, never."

When service members return to New Jersey, they're screened and check themselves for symptoms, such as a fever, said Watkins.

"We're obviously concerned about safety," said Air Force Col. Daniel Lamar, a physician who will help oversee the health of service members "on their way over and on their way back.

The transmission of Ebola "requires contact with blood and bodily fluids," he said. "We're not thinking at this point that [service members] will be quarantined."

The service "is being proactive," said Lamar. "There are screening questionnaires . . . and we keep an eye on anyone" who may have any possible Ebola contact.

Another part of the world has been keeping the KC-10's busy. A dependable workhorse, the aircraft has been refueling U.S. aircraft involved in various operations, including those intended to degrade ISIS.

"It's our job," said Capt. Andrew Veerathanongdech, a KC-10 pilot. "We train for that job, and we fly a lot."

About 160 aircraft are being utilized in the Persian Gulf region "at any given time" and could need refueling, officials said.

The KC-10 "is a great aircraft," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Pillion. "It's the sweetest ride out there."

On Thursday, news media representatives were taken up in a KC-10, which extended its fueling boom to a C-17 to demonstrate its aerial capabilities.

The C-17 later made an "assault landing" at the base to demonstrate a landing within a distance of 3,500 feet - an important ability especially "in austere locations."

"You come in at a steep angle and stop more quickly," said the pilot, Capt. Maggie Rudolph, a reservist in the 514th Air Mobility Wing who flies for U.S. Airways as a civilian. "You use reverse thrust and brakes."

The C-17 "is a brute force airplane - and was built for this," she said. "You can transport tanks. . . . If it fits, it flies."

She said such landings won't be necessary in Liberia since the location where the C-17's are heading to "has a nice airport."

Reservists such as Rudolph are "from all over New Jersey," said Pillion. "They're police officers and medical personnel.

"We not only work here, we live here," he said. "We're part of this community."

The air mobility wings at the base are a crucial part of the base's mission and are "always part of the equation when it comes to projecting national goals and executing them," Simonsen said.

"You've got to think of the trust we put in these 25- and 30-year-old folks to operate worldwide, not only executing with multimillion-dollar airplanes but doing missions to achieve the United States' objectives," he said. ". . . We're very proud of what we do here."

ecolimore@phillynews.com

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