NATO Allied Air Component Command Headquarters Ramstein goes on alert

by Staff Sgt. Markus M. Maier
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Readiness is the ability of forces, units, weapon systems and other equipment to deliver the outputs for which they were designed.

For the last year, NATO’s Allied Air Component Command Headquarters Ramstein, or CC-Air Ramstein, has been focused on that ability, as it prepared for increased responsibility.

CC-Air Ramstein recently assumed responsibility for the air component command portion of NATO Response Force 13 and 14.

NRF is similar to the U.S. Air Force’s Air Expeditionary Force in that NATO units commit forces to be on operational stand-by for six months at a time on a rotational basis. Its purpose is to provide the alliance a robust and credible high readiness capability as a joint and combined arms force and the ability to deploy quickly to participate in the full spectrum of NATO missions when required. 

During the NRF cycle, one of CC-Air Ramstein’s responsibilities is to provide leadership to air forces under the NRF umbrella. However, in non-critical times, this also means  headquarters must plan, coordinate and prepare for how to support NRF missions.

“We took on two six-month periods – NRF 13 and 14,” said Royal Netherlands Air Force Col. Ron Hagemeijer, CC-Air Ramstein NRF chief to head. “The joint level lead in this case is taken by Joint Forces Command Lisbon. Underneath that level we have the air component command, the land component command, the maritime command, special forces and logistical forces. We here at Ramstein are responsible for the air portion and that ranges from Article 5 all the way to the other side of the spectrum like humanitarian assistance.”

Article 5 refers to an article of the North Atlantic Treaty that governs the way NATO forces conduct war-fighting operations. It can be explained as an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members. Non-Article 5 operations are peacetime operations such as humanitarian assistance and crisis relief.
The road to NRF 13 and 14 began last year with a series of training events eventually leading to a certification exercise in May.

The exercise, Stead Fast Juncture ’09, was conducted throughout Europe and CC-Air Ramstein passed with flying colors.

“The Live Flying Exercise Loyal Arrow in Sweden has been an outstanding opportunity to prove our ability of commanding and controlling real people flying real aircraft for the Joint Forces Force Air Component headquarters,” said Italian Air Force Brig. Gen. Gianni Baron, JFAC commander. “I was very pleased with the way my team faced and coped with the challenges of this live exercise.”

But training and exercises weren’t the only way the CC-Air team prepared for NRF. They also reorganized the JFAC headquarters to meet a more functional area approach.

“In peacetime we function as an A-level organization,” Colonel Hagemeijer explained. “A-1 for personnel, A-2 for intel, A-3 for operations and so forth. However, we noticed that an A-level type organization is not really the most effective one for conducting operational missions. Therefore, we reorganized in case we have to stand up the Joint Force Air Component Headquarters.”

The JFAC now consists of a command group and five divisions: strategy, combat plans, combat operations, intelligence and combat service support.

The interior of the HQ building was also modified to meet JFAC requirements.
The basement was turned into a secure air operations center with computers, communications equipment and large screens covering an entire wall, allowing for real-time situational awareness.  

Even though CC-Air Ramstein earned the NRF certification, the preparation doesn’t end there, Colonel Hagemeijer said.

“We still need to continuously improve by fine-tuning our procedures, training ourselves and being proactive in finding areas that can be enhanced,” the colonel said. “We should continuously build towards a better JFAC HQ and prepare ourselves in case we are called upon to support any mission during NRF.”

The NRF program was created at the NATO summit held in Prague in 2002.
In September 2005, the NRF was first activated to airlift aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. One month later, in response to Pakistan’s request for relief support to earthquake victims, the NRF was again activated.

On this occasion, an air bridge transported supplies to Pakistan. Also, elements of the NRF headquarters and land forces were deployed to provide humanitarian assistance, primarily through engineering and medical support in the heart of the earthquake zone.

The CC-Air Ramstein team takes readiness very seriously and also shows a lot of pride in the opportunity to participate in two NRF cycles.

“Peoples’ lives are on the line,” Colonel Hagemeijer said. “Most of the time when something happens, it’s in an area where the poorest people on earth are living. We are obliged to help them.  It’s our duty to help those people in case they need our help.”

(Editor’s note: This article was compiled in part with information provided by the CC-Air Ramstein Public Affairs Office)