435th AGOW deploys team, equipment for first time

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Markus M. Maier

NIS, Serbia — Thirty-two members of the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing from Ramstein arrived here Aug. 25 in support of the Medical Training Exercise in Central and Eastern Europe 2009 known as MEDCEUR 2009.

More than 600 people representing 15 nations will participate in this year’s annual exercise with a focus on major disaster response and mass casualty situations.
The Ramstein team, which consists of personnel from the 435th Contingency Response Group and 1st Combat Communications Squadron, arrived a few days in advance of the exercise to set up the command center and fully operational tent city with showers, air conditioning and communications. While this type of deployment is not new to the team, this is a first since becoming part of the 435th AGOW in July.

“This is the AGOWs first deployment so it’s really neat being part of such a unique wing with such a special mission,” said Capt. Mike Rellick, 435th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron commander deployed from Ramstein.

As the multi-national exercise participants began arriving Monday, the team’s focus changed from initial set-up to support.

“We are the experts on how to build bases,” said Col. Tim Brown, 435th Expeditionary Air Ground Operations Group commander for the exercise, and 435th CRG commander from Ramstein. “Our expertise really lies in opening air bases, but we also operate air bases on a smaller scale. In this particular case we’re not actually operating the air field, but we’re using our expertise to provide support here for not just the headquarters staff, but also the support for real-live participants.”

Planning for the exercise started almost a year ago with CRG representatives coming to Serbia for the initial planning conference in November 2008.   
“We did an airfield suitability assessment basically finding out what buildings can be used,” Captain Rellick said. “We also did tests of the runway, taxi ways and parking ramps to determine what type of aircraft can land, taxi and park. It’s a load-bearing test that enables us to make recommendations to higher headquarters as far as what aircraft they can bring here to ensure there are no safety hazards.”

And the team is excited to show off their specialized skills.

“I love this job,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Gebhardt, 435th Contingency Response Group team leader in training. “In my normal job I’m an aircrew ground equipment mechanic on the flightline, so doing something like this is completely different. It’s such a thrill to be able to come out and do something like this to support other nations.”

While the AGOW team used their expertise and equipment to set everything up in about 48 hours, they did have support from host nation forces.

“Working with the Serbians has been fantastic,” Colonel Brown said. “The U.S. and Serbia haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work together, so this is certainly a major opportunity. They are very disciplined in their planning approach and this is a major opportunity for them hosting this exercise to showcase they’re capabilities. They’ve done very well in that so far. We always take the opportunity to try to learn from others as well. We teach others and we learn from others and that’s really what MEDCEUR 2009 is all about.”

In addition to the Airmen from AGOW, 37 Airmen from the 86th Airlift Wing comprise the nearly 70 Airmen from Team Ramstein currently supporting MEDCEUR 2009 through Sept. 13.

For more information on MEDCEUR 2009, visit ww.medceur2009.mod.gov.rs/eng/.