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Joint emergency response exercise showcases capabilities of Air Force Reserve, 315th Contingency Response Flight

  • Published
  • By Capt. Justin Clark
  • 315th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs

Three Air Force Reserve Contingency Response units, along with partners from the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, National Guard, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and FBI teamed up to put their emergency response capabilities to the test during exercise Patriot Palm, held here Jan. 27-30, 2020.

Patriot Palm gave participating organizations an opportunity to train, practice, and validate their capability to quickly mobilize in response to a disaster, whether natural or man-made. In the event of a national emergency, such as an earthquake or hurricane, aircraft from the Air Force or Air Force Reserve can be called upon by other military branches or by federal authorities to fly people and equipment to an affected area for rapid disaster response.

The exercise, part of which was facilitated by Joint Base Charleston’s 315th Contingency Response Flight, an Air Force Reserve unit specializing in rapid response and mobility, gave an opportunity for affiliated units to practice loading vehicles as cargo, moving medical patients, practicing emergency communications, and managing an airfield in austere conditions. The exercise was not in preparation for any specific event, but rather meant to help confirm that, if needed, military and civilian authorities can quickly mobilize to react to a disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, or even terrorist action.

“This exercise gives us the opportunity to enhance our skills,” said Lt. Col. Allison Garbade, commander of the 315th CRF. “The more we can do, the quicker we can have them up as a ready force that can participate in real-world operations, should the need arise.”

Contingency Response Teams, or CRTs, provided ground support to aircraft, handled communications, and coordinated the movement of cargo and vehicles. Three C-17 Globemaster IIIs and a C-5 Galaxy were brought to set up three CRTs. Additionally, other units involved flew aeromedical training missions, simulating real-world emergency and disaster response.

“We get a multitude of things from the exercise,” said Master Sgt. Robert Deal, affiliation manager with the 315th CRF. “We get recurrency, which gets us prepared. We’re constantly keeping everything fresh - all of our systems, testing our equipment, making sure everything is good. Any of our new equipment, we start using to make sure it works.”

Deal explained the varied roles of the CRF, from setting up a workable airbase from little more than a runway to helping other units prepare for rapid mobilization.

“We have a requirement that, once we come to a bare base, we have four hours to be able to receive our first aircraft,” Deal said. “We also train folks.”

In this exercise alone, the CRF has a Senior Airman who is going through job qualification standards now to become fully qualified, as well as an active duty Master Sergeant who is in the process of becoming a CRT chief.

The value of the training offered by the exercise was echoed consistently throughout the week.

“During the exercise we get a multitude of training time,” said Lt. Col. Greg Schnurrenberger, 315th CRF director of operations. “It builds toward our readiness and it also is building partnerships with our affiliates, as well as with active duty.”

Deal said the benefit of hosting the exercise in Hawaii is that it offers so many affiliate partners who can participate compared to other locations - some of which don't have mobility support other than through the Air Force, and that can't be replicated elsewhere.

The aircrews benefited as well. A C-17 loadmaster from Joint Base Charleston’s 300th Airlift Squadron completed a checkride, which is a periodic required recertification to keep their currency.

“Training in Hawaii benefits the aircrews, too," said Schnurrenberger. “They see airfields that they’re not normally accustomed to. And it’s beneficial to us because we get to utilize our west-coast affiliates.”

The Benefits of Being an Affiliate
CRFs provide a way to rapidly deploy emergency response personnel and equipment, anywhere. They are how civil authorities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and others can move equipment and people in for disaster response.

Deal said that participating units and organizations units have an existing affiliation with a CRF, which means that they have a documented partnership that allows them to have cargo carried on Air Force aircraft. The agreement explains the other organization’s requirements when a mobilization is needed, such as response times - some organizations must react within 72 hours, for instance. That agreement then drives what aircraft the U.S. Transportation Command and Air Force Reserve Command can provide.

Units or organizations that may want to become an affiliate can reach out to the nearest Air Force Contingency Response unit in their geographical area.

“Deployment readiness exercises help us get ready for homeland operations and homeland defense: a natural disaster, a terrorist attack,” said U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Robert Blome, 807th Medical Command Deployment Support CBRNE Response Enterprise program coordinator. “Our framework is built to be able to rapidly respond if forces are needed to help on the home front. The deployment readiness exercises help significantly with all the details and coordination that impact timing and being able to go in time - 96 hours or less.”

At Kalaeloa Airport, Soldiers of the U.S. Army Reserve 144th Minimal Care Detachment from San Diego, Calif., validated their ability to quickly and safely load vehicles onto waiting aircraft. The 144th transported three HMMWVs and two LMTV trucks – altogether weighing approximately 37,000 lbs – as well as 13 personnel, all on one Joint Base Charleston C-17 Globemaster III operated by the 300th Airlift Squadron. Total loading time was less than 30 minutes, and offloading took less than five.

1st Lt. Veronica Lopez, executive officer with the 144th and OIC of Command, Control, CBRN Response-A, abbreviated as C2CRE-A, explained that the exercise offered an opportunity for Soldiers to put what they’ve been practicing to the test. She said that Soldiers already had experience loading vehicles onto aircraft from completing static loads, but had not loaded onto an aircraft that they’d then fly with. Past experience in vehicle preparation was very helpful, said Lopez, because the unit already knew that vehicles needed to be clean, have tie-down points for chains, have extinguishers, and more so that they could be safely flown aboard a plane.

“Because we are currently in the C2CRE-A mission, and that mission requires us to be ready for rapid mobilization within 96 hours, this exercise really helps us practice what we’d need to do if a real-world event were to happen,” Lopez. “We already know all the process, all the paperwork we need to bring in, and we also practice tying down the equipment inside the aircraft, so we can assist the Air Force. If we already have that training, we can leave faster.”

The Marine units involved also emphasized the benefit of the exercise.

“It’s valuable training for the embarkation Marines,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Ford, a mobility oficer at MCBH. “They’re trained to be Air Mobility Command-certified. However, they rarely get the opportunity to actually train with Air Force assets, such as a C-17 here on Hawaii, since we now utilize more surface assets than air assets for major movements.”

CR units responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and set up bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s always a new experience,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Leo Danaher, Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu commanding officer. “We depend on airlift to move our equipment because we are the only MSST that is not within the continental United States. Without this training we would have to depend on outside sources, as opposed to the military.”

To be able to set up a base from nothing more than an empty airfield, CR units are made of a wide range of career fields. Pilots often serve as operations officers or crew commanders, enlisted CRT chiefs who can function in the same way, loadmasters, communications support in both radio and cyber communications, aerospace ground equipment support, command and control element, personnel support for contingency operations, and airfield management.

“It’s a great opportunity to train with the Air Force and continue to increase our operational interoperability,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Aimee Valencia, chief Operations Support with Maritime Safety and Security Team San Francisco. “This exercise will enable us to better prepare and execute future deployments."

Reducing Response Time through Preparation
Loading cargo or equipment onto aircraft requires complex preparation. Cargo must be made safe to fly, vehicles or other cargo have to be cleaned and have specific fuel and oil levels, and how to best load, configure, and secure it in the cargo bay must be determined. All of this is very time consuming, so to be ready for emergency response, affiliates are trained on how to do this during a class prior to the exercise.

"This is the validation of the class,” Deal said. "[The affiliates] go through the course, and we’ve taught them, but this gives them a chance to validate that they know it. Now that they’ve done it, if they get tasked in the real world, they have a load team who can load that airplane.”

A group of Marines from Marine Corps Base Hawaii had an opportunity to validate their loading of palletized cargo onto an Air Force C-17 aircraft.

“They’ve had a new K-Loader, but they’ve never had the opportunity to load,” Deal said. “That Marine is now able to let people know that he has that capability. By us having him to load that equipment, now enhances his ability exercise with a CRT at this location.”

Reserve aerial porters from the Joint Base Charleston’s 38th Aerial Port Squadron and 81st Aerial Port Squadron completed several of their own training objectives while assisting partners with the Air Force’s method of cargo loading. Teams got the chance to load and unload personnel, cargo, sea and land vehicles, all of which first require a thorough inspection to make sure they're safe to fly on an aircraft. All the while, the aerial porters showed the affiliated units how best to prepare their equipment for loading by conducting pre-flight Joint Inspections of all the cargo.

Aeromedical Evacuation teams also practiced as part of the medical component of the exercise, medical side of the exercise, exchanging knowledge and building important partnerships, according to Capt. Jonathan White, a Medical Service Corps officer with Joint Base Charleston's 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

“The key here is being able to operate with other units in different locations and new challenge,” White said. “Our bottom line is to improve our wartime mission. The goal is to challenge our people in environments they aren't used to, work efficiently with other service members across the country seamlessly, and be ‘Anytime, anywhere.’”

“Working with people you've never met before can be a challenge, but it is the professionally trained Airmen we bring to the fight that can execute that and create value for all,” White added.