Airmen of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing and the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing recently took part in the movement of personnel and cargo to support Operation Octave Quartz.
The objective of OOQ was to re-posture assets and personnel within Somalia to other locations within the region at the direction of the President of the United States and the acting Secretary of Defense.
“I am extremely proud of both wings for how quickly and safely they accomplished an incredibly challenging mission with professionalism and tenacity,” said Col. Daniel C. Clayton, 435th AGOW and 435th AEW commander. “Once again, our amazing Airmen across Africa and Europe proved their readiness and resiliency, by rapidly responding and effectively executing their mission in the austere conditions and contested environment of East Africa.”
The 435th AEW is the U.S. Air Force’s only Air Forces Africa wing deployed to various locations in Africa. Airmen assigned to the wing had a vital undertaking to rapidly enhance basing solutions in East Africa to essentially double operational capability.
“We had to first understand what missions and number of associated personnel coming to the base,” said Capt. Brandon Gray, 435th AEW Team 3 civil engineering officer. “Then we were able to identify the needed life support assets to begin designing the base layout.”
Once all requirements were known, the team was able to move on to the mechanics of the build-out and transition their focus to expansion.
“There wasn’t enough land on the existing camp to receive the increased population,” Gray said. “One section of the (perimeter) wall had to be removed and a new wall had to be built.”
In addition to expanding, the team had to make other adjustments around the base.
“Our unit had to plan, resource, and construct base improvements,” said Maj. Joe Thomas, 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron mission support flight commander and OOQ base build-out officer in charge. “With assistance from Air Forces Africa (engineering branch) staff, we designed our base expansion to meet the housing needs of additional troops; sufficient to support all power, water, communications, latrine, laundry, fitness, and dining facility requirements.”
In addition, the team consolidated and renovated numerous existing structures to support additional workspaces.
“We renovated and developed a 3,000 square foot building to consolidate the Base Defense Operations Center, 475th EABS Staff and the U.S. Army’s Task Force Bayonet security forces into a single joint facility,” Thomas said. “We repurposed three sleeping buildings into office spaces, expanded the kitchen operations by 1,000 square feet, and constructed new fire department berthing tents and (an) alarm room.”
Airmen of the 435th AEW and 435th AGOW not only proved they could efficiently and effectively execute the demands of the wing’s mission set with adaptiveness, agility, and lethality, but also within the required timeline, as one team.
Work to build out the base began with only five CE and eight communications Airmen. On order the 435th AEW’s sister wing, the 435th AGOW, provided essential subject matter experts. For the construction and expansion, the 435th Construction and Training Squadron provided 20 CE troops and an additional 12 communications; three petroleum, oil and lubrication; two services troops; and one contractor were tasked from within the USAFE-AFAFRICA HQ staff and TF Bayonet to provide assistance in addition to the relocating units.
“All of the units assigned to relocate played a crucial role in supporting the establishment of berthing locations and work spaces,” said Master Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez, 475th EABS services noncommissioned officer in charge. “Without their support, we would not have been able to meet the hard deadline.”
With the mechanics of the build-out underway, the 435th AEW logistics operations cell worked closely with U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa (Joint Operation Planning and Execution System Branch) and (Logistics Readiness Current Operations Branch) teams, the U.S. Embassy, and the Surface Deployment Distribution Command to coordinate transportation of personnel and assets into the area of responsibility.
“It was an air and ground effort,” said Lt. Col. Kristen Moulis, 435th AEW logistics operation cell. “The ground logistics team supported 18 airlift missions moving 442,000 pounds of cargo. Our team crafted a large-scale ground convoy in coordination with the U.S. Embassy and SDDC, launching 22 trucks of cargo.”
The 435th AGOW played a critical role. Teams from the 435th Contingency Response Group and the 435th Air and Space Communications Group provided vital expertise, manpower, and equipment to ensure mission success.
In all, the teams worked the retrograde movement actions to reposition AFAFRICA aircraft, personnel, and equipment within East Africa that resulted in the movement of 1,279 personnel and 3,364 tons of cargo saving over $1 million dollars in airlift costs.
“Joint Task Force-Quartz completed our assigned mission ahead of schedule, with all personnel and equipment repositioned safely. This operation has been a testament to how far our military has come as a joint force,” said Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, JTF-Quartz commander. “To come together with little notice, integrate air, sea, and land components into a coherent operation, and execute flawlessly in a remote part of the world under a compressed timeline is nothing short of extraordinary.”
When conducting base expansion operations, units typically expect some resistance, but for the 435th AEW, the resistance was not imposed by the enemy, but rather the clock.
“Our main opposition was time,” Rodriguez said. “(Plus), the availability of resources and contractors on the local economy who could accomplish the task in a timely manner.”
For the logistics cell, “challenges included the expedited timeline to reposition assets to multiple locations supported via the most efficient and effective means, while working within the suspense designated by the POTUS executive order,” Moulis said.
Despite the challenges, the teams still executed their missions ahead of schedule.
“From the time the assets arrived on ground, the team built the life support area in less than 30 days,” Gray said.
With the majority of the work almost complete there is still plenty left to do.
“A new aircraft parking apron is currently in design for fixed wing assets,” Gray said. “A perimeter road is currently in development, and a water well is under contract that is expected to be complete in 45 days.”
The teams assigned to the 435th AEW successfully executed their short-notice order as one team enabling multi-theater sustainment and support while maintaining partner capacity.
“I am extremely proud of the effort and quality of work that our team has accomplished in such a short time,” Thomas said. “We have done more construction and renovation in two-and-a-half months than I have completed in my previous two deployments combined. We continue to improve conditions and infrastructure and have a goal of being in steady-state operations by the end of February.”
“Any adversary who wishes to challenge U.S. military power, our partners, or our allies should think twice after seeing what we did in such a short time,” said Anderson. “The U.S. is unmatched in our ability to project power, and we stand ready to do so anytime, anywhere.”
Despite the relocation, the 435th AEW will remain postured to support the mission in East Africa, working together with partners to advance mutual security interests, counter violent extremism, and support partner nation missions.