Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs March 17, 2023
More than 120 personnel from the 435th Contingency Response Group deployed to support Exercise Agile Bison 23-1 at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium, March 5-14.
Agile Bison is an exercise that allows the 435th CRG to practice its core mission set — open the Airbase — in a simulated contested environment, with the added bonuses of dedicated airlift and partner nation integration.
Although the 435th CRG operated this exercise on an already fully operational airfield, Chièvres Air Base leadership turned over many services to 435th CRG control in an effort to replicate a more austere airfield environment.
The 435th CRG consists of the 435th Contingency Response Squadron, 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron, 435th Construction and Training Squadron and 435th Security Forces Squadron. All four squadrons participated in this exercise alongside partners from the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing, the 435th Air and Space Communications Group, and the 86th Airlift Wing.
“We have been planning this exercise for the last eight months,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Andrew Wuebold, 435th CRG contingency response element commander. “It was designed to bring in all four squadrons in our group together to challenge and expand upon our Agile Combat Employment foundation.”
As the sole unit in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa that opens expeditionary airfields on demand, the 435th CRG utilizes and deploys scalable, cross-functional, and rapidly deployable specialized teams throughout both continents to successfully fulfill higher headquarters requirements.
“We are a multi-capable Airmen unit, with multi-function capabilities,” explains Wuebold.
The contingency response concept unites Airmen from various functional backgrounds such as: aircraft maintenance, aerial port logistics, engineering, air traffic control, medical, and several others, to establish airfield and base operations support in all climates as well as contested environments. In contingency response, each member is a multi-capable Airman meaning that along with their primary duty, Contingency response members can also fulfill secondary duty positions including force protection.
“Even though my primary duty is to make sure that aircraft are being downloaded, we must know a little bit about everything to help make sure that our area gets built up, which means everyone works together,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cecelia Bak, 435th CRG mobile aerial port supervisor. “You get to work with other AFSCs [Air Force Specialty Code] and expand our horizons on not only what your job is capable of doing but what other jobs can do and how those come together and work together to create a working piece that’s just more than you. The CRE [contingency response element] is where MCA’s [multi-capable Airman] thrive.”
The 435th CRG’s ability to mobilize U.S. and NATO assets is a vital component in implementing initiatives in line with the National Defense Strategy.
ACE demands rapid deployment and high tempo operations. The CRG meets these demands through its ability to rapidly deploy and establish airbase operations within 24 hours of arrival. Exercise Agile Bison also develops the 435th CRG’s flexibility and capability to assist and work with allied and partner nations.
“One thing we are trying to instill is better NATO cohesion with our unit,” Wuebold said. “We’ve looked for ways to integrate with our NATO allies during this exercise more than we have before.”
Prior to the exercise, as part of the planning process, the 435th CRG hosted an Air Planning Conference alongside Dutch, German, and Belgian mobility aircraft units, drop/landing zone controlling units, and airfield survey teams to effectively plan how and when various elements of integration would occur. The exercise scenario led them to leverage one another’s assets and experience to work through challenges, demonstrating the true value of the Alliance.
Within Agile Bison, the 435th CRG also exercised the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing’s new mission commonly referred to as “AGOW Inside Out.” Five days into the exercise, the contingency response element was dynamically re-tasked to deploy a 25-person contingency response team from Chièvres Air Base to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to hot-pit refuel F-16s.
A contingency response team provides USAFE-AFAFRICA highly agile mobility teams to project airpower anytime and anywhere. Although the 435th CRG trains hot-pit refuel operations at various times throughout the year, Agile Bison marked the first time it conducted these operations in conjunction with a large contingency response exercise.
Overall, Exercise Agile Bison 23-1 tested the readiness, proficiency, and adaptability of the 435th CRG, successfully preparing the unit for future taskings in the European and African area of responsibilities.