GROSTENQUIN AIR BASE, France — Airmen from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing’s 435th Contingency Response Group and more than 11 other organizations, along with one C-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron, 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, deployed to Grostenquin Air Base, France, to participate in exercise Contested Forge.
The annual weeklong exercise tests the 435th CRG’s ability to build a forward operating base and conduct airfield operations in an austere environment.
“Our mission is to enable access and airpower across the continent of Europe,” said Capt. Michael Hester, 435th CRG Contingency Response Element operations officer. “We go into locations that can’t necessarily handle airfield operations, establish security, and build up so that we can start getting aircraft in the area and cargo into the airfield to enable access for airpower across the continent.”
During the exercise, Airmen built and secured the bare base and conducted airlift operations, including container delivery system and heavy equipment drops, engine-running on-loads, and combat offloads, throughout both the day and night.
“Our capabilities include anything you would need to rapidly open an air base and for a significant duration before support is needed to resupply,” said Maj. CJ Thomsen, 435th Contingency Response Squadron director of operations. “We do a lot of work with outside agencies to get things we need, such as fuel and water, but otherwise we are self-sustained.”
While the 435th CRG regularly exercises their capability to build a bare base and conduct austere airfield operations within a 24-hour time period, they usually simulate a permissive environment or one they do not know the threat level of adversarial activity.
“This is the first time we’ve really done this in a contested environment where we actually have a threat out there that we are trying to address with security forces,” Hester said. “It’s something new for us where everybody goes out the door with a weapon. Everybody is a base defender and can provide that security 24/7.”
The exercise leaders believe all the Airmen participating in Contested Forge greatly benefited from the training, but they aren’t the only ones as the capability to set up and operate an airfield in any location is also a boon to U.S. allies.
“This training allows us to be a credible force for our allies,” said Lt. Col. Leonardo Tongko, 435th CRS commander. “It is to assure them we can provide support, deter and defend them from any threat in a moment’s notice — we have the capability to build, sustain, and defend airpower.”
All participants were American, but the exercise was made possible through the cooperation of the French government and military, who allowed the 435th CRG to conduct the training on the abandoned Canadian airfield.
“Anywhere in the world we can find ourselves where we don’t have a runway, where we don’t have the means to catch an aircraft or refuel and resupply them,” Thomsen said. “By being able to open up an airfield rapidly in any environment, friendly or hostile, we’re extending the reach of airpower.”