The AVON PARK AUXILIARY Airport, Fla. (AFNS) -(AFNS) –
The F-16 Fighting Falcon escorts a C-17 Globemaster III into a simulation of an austere and harsh setting. The engines are operating as the personnel disembark the C-17 the items are downloaded and an airfield is ready for the next aircraft to take off and, within minutes, a security zone is set up and communication goes online. The speed of operations is a common occurrence for those in the community of contingency response.
With just four contingency response fights and two contingency groups of the Air National Guard, what Airmen are able to accomplish in minutes, even in the most extreme conditions, is remarkable.
“Contingency Response is basically an air wings inside the form of a container,” stated Lieutenant. Colonel. Wes Carter, 172nd Contingency Response Flight commander. “What We do is head out to an airfield which is or is in a wartime setting which has been taken over by one of our Army or Marine Corps counterparts, and we’ll go in to get it back from them and begin air operations. Our aim is to bring the first plane in the air within the next 24-hours.”
The units of contingency response also provide disaster assistance in the domestic operation. The unique structure of these units can allow them to manage an airfield which isn’t functioning because of damage sustained by hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.
“The first encounter I had with the CRF was during an Agile Exercise in Combat Employment,” explained Lieutenant. Col. John Pegg, 100th Fighter Squadron commander. “Our aircraft require a lot of support. There are maintainers, avionics and weapons and other moving components to load the weapons and get them delivered.” Pegg added that utilizing agencies such as the CRF at the moment you land on the ground, makes what would seem impossible to accomplish.
For many Airmen who took part in Southern Strike 2022’s exercise This was their first experience they had to take part in an exercise within ACE which airframes of combat Air Forces, mobility Air Forces and mobility Air Forces, and Army assets were able to share an airfield at the same time.
“We’ve had lots of hands-on instruction and much more action than we expected however, that’s all part of the training process and we’re ready for an opportunity to challenge ourselves,” said Airman 1st Class Jose Colom, 156th Contingency Response Group air transportation specialist. “We’ve done lots of offloads for engines that aren’t usual for us, and also night vision , which is novel for me.”
Lieutenant. Colonel Todd Morgan, 146th CRF commander, has stated that activities such as Southern Strike are essential while emergency response flights are undergoing an upgrade that would allow them to be around 29 Airmen who could provide an operational air service anyplace in the world operating on one aircraft all the time for 24-hour operations is being integrated into the units’ force structure.
“This kind of training is essential in helping us build connections across the community of contingency response,” Morgan said. “During Operation Allies Welcome, both Volk Field and Holloman Air Force Base were governed by Air National Guard, contingency response elements. Each of these elements was entirely natural to their unit.”
The Airmen’s quick and flexible responses were efficient and swift and continuous injections were delivered to Airmen throughout the course of the exercise.
“Our injectors are realistic and, even if the injectors don’t know what to do it’s possible to get an after-action report following the injection,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Visnic, 821st Contingency Response Squadron flight sergeant. “This is an environment for learning. Here’s where you can fail. It is important not to make this mistake, and the next time you deploy you’ll be prepared.”
Traditional Guardsmen who aren’t able to practice their skills regularly were able improve their skills and acquire valuable information on how to function as a unit.
“One thing that’s pretty cool is that it was my first training session and one of the things I was able to accomplish was to rely on my education,” said Airman 1st Class Jonathan Milian, 156th Security Operations Squadron security forces specialist. “I recently graduated from technical school, and the lessons they taught us was extremely helpful. I’ve referred back to my education and was able to communicate well together as a group and it’s been amazing to see how well we’ve worked together in the very first instance.”
“These are just blocks to build upon that we’ll are always adding to them. Also, considering that this was their first training and this was their first exercise, it’s a great base to build on,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Barnes, 821st CRS fire team leader. “Every day we’ve been here, we’ve seen improvements in the areas. We’ve been giving them constant feedback, and I’m happy with the results we’ve observed.”
Carter explained that the volume of training they could achieve in just four days can sometimes take 10 years to complete. Even with the speedy pace and the high-quality of the Airmen that participated created a valuable training opportunity.
“The community of contingency response is currently in the direction that the Air Force is moving towards,” Morgan said. “When you have Airmen who are multi-capable You’re training them beyond their particular function, but they’ll learn other skills. The Airman is the expert on the subject in their profession, but we are able to augment the personnel when necessary.”
Morgan admitted that this was his first experience working with Southern Strike. He said that training exercises like this enable their staff to push them to the limits of their training as they apply the doctrines that they use in an environment that is safe.
Southern Strike is a large-scale, special and conventional exercise that is hosted by the Mississippi National Guard at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Camp McCain Training Center, Naval Air Station Meridian and The Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center and various other training facilities. The exercise assists the team to keep their combat readiness up, establish relationships, increase interoperability, and prepare for potential future contingency operations.