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Multi-capable Airmen sustain strategic deterrence during Mobility Guardian

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lorraine Cho
  • Air Mobility Command

Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, Oscoda, Mich. – After 28 years, Airmen once again flew tankers out of Oscoda; moreover, they sustained the strategic deterrence mission by providing on-site support services during Exercise Mobility Guardian, May 15-27, 2021. 

“As a critical enabler to our nation’s nuclear capabilities, AMC will ensure strategic deterrence by providing assured air refueling and airlift support to our nation’s nuclear response and by enabling diplomacy through our support to presidential and senior leader support missions,” said Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, AMC commander.

On April 1, 1960, Strategic Air Command assumed operational control of what was then Wurtsmith Air Force Base from Air Defense Command; on Jan. 9, 1961, the 379th Bombardment Wing, flying B-52H’s and KC-135A’s, became the host unit. The wing executed strategic deterrence operations through the end of the Cold War, including bomber and air refueling missions. On June 30, 1993, post-Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force inactivated the 379th Bombardment Wing and decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base, which was converted into the public Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport.

Like the host wing of old, Aeromedical Evacuation, Civil Engineer, Contingency Response, Force Support and Logistics Readiness Squadrons from across AMC sustained and enabled tanker operations during the longest and largest exercise in Rapid Global Mobility by providing food, lodging, maintenance, medical and security services to Airmen at Oscoda.

“We’re the people supporting Oscoda, which means we’re ultimately the ones projecting tanker power,” said Capt. Sean Bryant, 821st CRS Base Operating Support Integrator and CR Element commander.

As the BOSI, Bryant united a diverse group of Airmen, who represented 40 different Air Force Specialty Codes or jobs, various AMC bases and all Air Force components: active-duty, Guard and Reserve.

“These are people that are being multi-functional Airmen by doing an entirely different job … Being able to feed people, being able to house people, being able to provide laundry services, shower services, keeping the runways clear and clean,” said Bryant. “If we hadn’t had those quick-turn maintenance teams, the tankers would not have been able to land on time, and it would have impacted the entire exercise. So, quick-turn maintenance capability was huge!” 

Lacking the infrastructure typically found at an Air Force base, Bryant’s motley crew built a base from the ground up at austere Oscoda. To rapidly establish living quarters, Airman-engineers procured Disaster Relief Beddown Systems from their partners at the Air National Guard. 

“It was very beneficial to know how fast we could get this set up with the crew that we had. The camaraderie within all the shops, working together as a big family, helps out a lot,” said Kansas ANG member Tech. Sgt. Lyle E. Johnson, 190th Air Refueling Wing engineering assistant and Mobility Guardian DRBS team lead. “The more that you do this and the more you train, the better and more proficient you can get. Coming out and doing this, we can find new and different ways of doing things more efficiently for a better outcome.”

Due to the ANG’s role in providing humanitarian assistance following an earthquake or hurricane, the DRBS was designed to house emergency responders and military personnel conducting disaster relief response efforts. Consequently, setting up the DRBS required Total Force integration, with 14 percent of the construction team consisting of Guardsmen. 

“It also took coordination with the contractors,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to be reaching out to the community and working with them too, because they’ve been a big help in making sure that this was a go. It wasn’t only us.” 

Within a few days, a mere 28 Airmen established housing for over 400 personnel, replete with generators, lighting and temperature control systems to ensure 24/7 operations, regardless of time of day or weather conditions. Furthermore, they erected a medical facility, a kitchen, a mess hall, bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities.

“There was no military presence here until we got here,” said Johnson. “We had an entire base set up –fully functional.”

Establishing the base required Airmen with a gamut of skills: construction, culinary, electrical, heavy equipment operation, HVAC, plumbing and power production. Multi-capable Airmen with adaptability and a drive to learn new jobs and serve beyond their primary duties played a key role in setting up sustainment services to support the mission. 

“The power production guy showed me how to hook up the lights and power everything, and I was able to put power to all the tents. So, we do cross-functional training a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Greene, 821st CRS aerial port supervisor. “Maintenance will go out there and teach us how to marshal aircraft, and we’ll teach people how to drive forklifts and how to help us push pallets. So, if one person goes down, someone else will be able to fill that role, too.”

To maintain a minimal infrastructure footprint, Airmen from across the Total Force, Major Commands, and various specialties collaborated to learn each other’s skillsets and make the strategic deterrence mission happen – lighter and leaner – despite Oscoda’s atypical obstacles due to the lack of an Air Force presence for nearly three decades.

“As we try to be lighter, leaner, faster, we’re getting better at making people that deal in similar job jars be able to do multiple different jobs and keep growing,” said Bryant. “We’ve got Airmen from Global Strike, not just AMC … and we’re teaching each other cross-MAJCOM, so it’s multi-MAJCOM training.”

The exercise also incorporated mission-type orders, which delegate decisions typically reserved for group commanders to sergeants and company grade officers to encourage independent decision-making, tactical problem-solving and creative ingenuity. 

“We’re solving impact issues three to four grades [ranks] lower. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn to solve problems and grow,” said Bryant. “We provide a tactical ability with strategic impact.”

Experiences at Oscoda equipped Airmen with expeditionary knowledge and skills to stay ahead of America’s adversaries.

“A big part of developing our force is giving them experience in making decisions with limited communications and only their commander’s intent to work from,” said Deputy Exercise Director Lt. Col. Christopher Uhland. “Our Airmen’s ability to execute mission-type orders under circumstances like this is an asymmetric advantage our adversaries cannot replicate.”

Mobility Guardian 2021 exercised Mobility Airmen’s capability to forward-deploy and rapidly provide adaptive basing and sustainment services, ensuring they can deploy, survive, operate, maneuver, sustain and regenerate in contested environments – anywhere, anytime.

For more information on Exercise Mobility Guardian 2021, visit