Group reflects on OIF mission one year later

Maj. James Lowe
786th Security Forces commander

***image1***March 27 holds special meaning for members of the 86th Contingency Response Group — it marks their accomplishment, dedication and perseverance during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Last year on that day, 20 members of the 86th CRG parachuted into northern Iraq along with more than 1,000 members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.
Their mission was to seize Bashur Airfield, Iraq, receive the remainder of the group, open the airfield and establish it as a strategic airlift hub in order to bring the full combat power of the 173rd to fight against hostile forces in northern Iraq.
Saturday marks the anniversary of this watershed event, said Col. Steve Weart, 86th CRG commander and who was also commander of Air Force forces at Bashur.
“Bashur was a total validation of the CRG operational concept,” the commander said. “From Airborne insertion to conducting airfield and aerial port operations in tactical black-out conditions, to full bare-base expeditionary combat support, we employed every mission-essential task resident in the CRG — and we did so with astounding success.”
In 27 days, they unloaded more than 350 aircraft, carrying a total of 26.5 million pounds of cargo and more than 4,200 passengers. The 86th Air Mobility Squadron, one of the two squadrons in the CRG, ran the airfield and aerial port operations. During that time, they broke the advertised C-17 download time. The Air Force’s average to download a C-17 is 60 to 90 minutes. The average 86th AMS download time at Bashur was 15 minutes. The real challenge was all airfield operations were conducted at night, in tactical blacked-out conditions, using night vision devices and infrared floodlights,
The 786th Security Forces Squadron was also deployed to provide airfield security. They provided multiple expeditionary antiterrorism operation skills to secure Bashur, so the CRG could perform their mission. They patrolled 128 square kilometers of key terrain and developed joint and combined antiterrorism operations tactics, techniques and procedures with the local Pershmerga militia and the 173rd ABN BDE They searched more than 550 vehicles, conducted sniper and counter-sniper operations, used explosive detecting canines, jointly planned the airfield defensive fire support plan with the brigade fire support cell and ensured a continuous link between the two command centers using command and control links.
The CRG’s performance at Bashur has impacted the accepted norms for expeditionary airfield operations, and it has not gone unnoticed. Their success at Bashur was referenced by the Air Force chief of staff in two policy letters and speeches. Additionally, the Secretary of the Air Force discussed the Bashur mission during recent testimony to Congress about the future of Air Force expeditionary combat support.
Colonel Weart, in describing the fallout from Bashur said, “We knew it was big, but we didn’t realize how big it would prove to be. We have fundamentally impacted the way the Air Force plans to conduct future expeditionary airfield operations.”
But the real sense of accomplishment for a few members came when four of the original 20 jumpers returned to Camp Ederle two weeks ago to welcome the 173rd ABN BDE back from Iraq.
“Everyone we were able to see again, from the brigade commander to the everyday ‘Joes’ said how much they really appreciated us being there during the Bashur mission,” said Senior Master Sgt. Chris Batta, the deployed CRG superintendent. “They said it couldn’t have been done without us. That is an amazing honor, coming from these guys who have just spent a year in combat. It takes what we did at Bashur to a completely new level.”