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Landing Zone safety officers expand reach of the CRW

  • Published
  • By Capt. David Gaulin
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing
The 621st Contingency Response Wing has a history of resurrecting airports ravaged by earthquakes, floods or war, and turning them into air mobility hubs where personnel, supplies and equipment rapidly flow to where they are needed. From Bagram to Baghdad, Haiti to Pakistan, the "Devil Raiders" have worked wonders getting warfighters to the front and help to those who need it.

But what if there is no runway?

In the past this would have been a show-stopper. Thanks to some recent training by members of the 818th and 817th Contingency Response Groups, this is no longer a problem. Give us a few thousand feet of open area--a dirt road, highway, or abandoned airstrip--and we can land aircraft and flow cargo in no time.

Last month, Capt. Mike Modesto and I were trained as landing zone safety officers at Pinon Landing Zone in Colorado. Under the guidance of an Air Force combat control team member we learned how to select, inspect and mark landing zones for both day and night operations. We then applied what we learned by turning a strip of rocky prairie into a functioning landing zone for two C-130 Hercules transports as they conducted multiple assault landings. Modesto and I were evaluated on our ability to provide weather information and LZ updates to the aircrew conducting both routine daylight operations and blacked-out night assault landings with the use of night vision devices.

The LZSO skill-set is not new to the CRW. We already have a team of air mobility liaison officers assigned to the 621st Contingency Operations Support Group. They are based with Army and Marine Corps units and are trained to support our joint partners with air mobility coordination issues. However, organic LZSO capability did not exist in our home-station CRGs - until now.

The development of a LZSO cadre in the CRGs has several benefits. First, it gives us the ability to conduct LZ operations using our own equipment and personnel. Also, it enables our airfield assessment team to move from runway inspection to having aircraft on the ground in a minimum amount of time. Finally, it gives the CRW an additional capability that we can use to help our joint, coalition and interagency partners during exercises and contingency operations.

The next time we are called to employ our 'open the airbase' capability, we will not be constrained to operating solely at large, robust airfields that may be miles from where cargo and passengers need to be. Our new LZSO capability, combined with the austere, short runway capabilities of the C-17 and C-130, enables us to get our mobility air forces--and their cargo--much closer to where they need to be. This takes pressure off airports that may be overwhelmed with commercial airlift, lessens the need for over-the-road trucks and ultimately saves time--and possibly lives--by allowing "direct delivery" of cargo and personnel, the evacuation of disaster victims, or both.

The 621 CRW is full of talented teams that can execute unique missions. Our new and growing LZSO force adds another capability to our wing's ever-growing bag of tricks.