CHESHNEGIROVO AIRFIELD, Bulgaria — The 435th Contingency Response Group executed the opening and operating of an airfield after joint forcible entry into Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21, May 11-12.
Under cover of darkness, U.S. Air Force Airmen and U.S. Army Soldiers boarded a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft departing Pápa Air Base, Hungary, destined for uncertain terrain.
Upon arrival, the first light of daybreak revealed a remote airfield surrounded by mountains and overgrown vegetation.
Rapid airfield security and assessment were conducted by the 435th CRG team, and, after establishing initial airfield operations in a simulated contested environment, the joint delivery of troops and heavy equipment cargo was enabled.
“The 435th CRG contributed a self-sufficient team capable of establishing and sustaining airfield operations with minimal resources,” said Tech. Sgt. Paris Bell, 435th Contingency Response Squadron airfield manager. “We have everything we need to support airlift missions in a contingency environment.”
Attached to the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing located at Ramstein Air Base, the 435th CRG is the only contingency response force in the Air Force that maintains an airborne insertion capability.
“The airborne capability of the assessment team and the first-in security team provides a wide range of options for commanders, from the combatant command down to group or brigade level, to employ the critical skill sets that the two teams bring to the fight,” said Capt. Andrew Schnell, 435th CRS assistant director of operations. “The capability also allows us to fully integrate with the (Army) 173rd Airborne Brigade, allowing a seamless transition between securing the airfield and accepting follow-on forces via air-land aircraft.”
With its highly skilled, multi-capable Airmen, the 435th CRG enabled rapid C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft launch, recovery, airdrop and air-land operations within a strict time frame.
“Contingency response Airmen are the epitome of the multi-capable Airman concept,” Bell said. “In order to achieve mission success, it is essential for Airmen within the CRG to be both subject matter experts in their specific career fields and flexible enough to operate efficiently outside the scope of their specialties. Versatility is not a new concept to the CRG – contingency response personnel are the original multi-capable Airmen.”
As part of DEFENDER-Europe, an annual large-scale U.S. Army Europe and Africa-led, multinational, joint exercise, Swift Response is one of several associated exercises designed to build strategic and operational readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO allies and partners.
“The opportunity to work with the 173rd (Airborne Brigade) and our NATO allies and partners is always something I am grateful for,” Schnell said. “Strong relationships with both the joint force and our NATO allies, and partners is critical to the security of the European theater and a key aspect of deterrence.”
Swift Response 21 is an opportunity for the 435th CRG to sharpen its expeditionary skills and demonstrate its ability to stand up core air mobility support functions and additional combat support functions that enable self-sustained airfield operations in austere locations during a rapidly developing crisis.
“An airfield assessment supporting a joint forcible entry is a PhD-level assessment, requiring extensive coordination between contingency response forces and the 173rd Airborne Brigade,” Schnell said. “From planning through execution, the team worked closely with their Army counterparts, ensuring a smooth transition of authority following the seizure. The team performed incredibly well in an extremely complicated environment, and I am proud of every member.”
Whether it be for exercises in peacetime or supplying forces in crisis, the U.S. military’s ability to conduct military movement across borders in Europe is key to the readiness of NATO allies and partners. Exercises like Swift Response 21 enhance alliance security by maintaining NATO’s broad range of military capabilities to deter aggression and assure allies of NATO’s readiness to respond.
“Swift Response was an overall resounding success from both a joint and partner nation integration perspective,” said Col. Jason Work, 435th CRG commander. “The exercise allowed us to increase the readiness of Army and Air Force units, as well as increase interoperability with our partners in Hungary and Bulgaria. Swift Response is a critical piece of the DEFENDER-Europe exercise series designed to support NATO deterrence objectives, and the 435th CRG was honored to participate.”