Terrible weather conditions couldn’t slow down the 86th Contingency Response Group and 37th Airlift Squadron in an operational readiness exercise at Royal Air Force Fairford, near Gloucestershire, England, May 16 to 22.
The exercise presented valuable training on tactical capabilities, such as assessing and gaining control of an airfield, night flying operations and combat cargo offloads.
Despite violent winds and fierce rain showers on the RAF Fairford flightline, the Ramstein Airmen participating in the eight-day ORE were not at all fazed by the challenges presented by the inclement weather.
“It’s been a great opportunity for the CRG to work with the other groups and squadrons from Ramstein,” said Maj. Leo Gage, 86th Air Mobility Squadron assistant director of operations. “We have the 37th AS, 435th Services Squadron and 835th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters who have all come together during this exercise and really emphasized how important the Team Ramstein concept is.”
Prior to the exercise, Airmen were given a scenario to keep them focused on key points of training.
“The exercise scenario we are following is an earthquake in Bulgaria, which has required units to perform a quick reaction response and provide humanitarian aid and relief to personnel on the ground,” Major Gage said.
To keep the exercise as realistic as possible, units operated between two separate locations: RAF Fairford, the simulated staging base, and West Freugh Airfield, Scotland, the forward operating base.
“We have forward deployed members of the CRG from Fairford to West Freugh,” Major Gage said. “There, they will establish and gain control of the airfield. After that’s accomplished, the aircraft will be forward deployed there to deliver the actual humanitarian aid and relief.”
By operating around the clock between the two locations, 37th AS pilots and crew members got the chance to train using night vision goggles – executing flying patterns and performing pitch black combat offloads.
“Night operations can play a critical role in mission success,” said Tech. Sgt. Vern Miles, 37th AS loadmaster. “It’s always good when we get the opportunity to sharpen our skills like this. Night flights and combat offloads in complete darkness are a big part of what we do.”
Another key training opportunity RAF Fairford provided was to send airfield assessment personnel airborne.
Led by the CRG commander, the airfield assessment team was comprised of members from civil engineers, loadmasters, communications and security forces. Being the team responsible for determining requirements to establish an airfield in a deployed area, the ORE gave them a chance to use their paratrooper skills as well to land in the drop zone. Then they gathered their gear and assessed West Freugh Airfield.
“It’s always tough to evaluate an entire airfield when you only have 13 security forces members performing the task,” said Capt. Mark Breed, 786th Security Forces Squadron operations officer. “Throwing the weather in on top of that can make for quite a challenge, but we came prepared to overcome these types of challenges so we can get the mission done.”
The ORE required the squadrons and groups involved to perform at their maximum capabilities.
“This is the first time the 86th CRG has forward deployed and shown its full spectrum of capabilities,” Major Gage said. “We also brought in another vital piece of the CRG spectrum – the construction and training squadron. They began setting up a bare base, which allowed follow-on units to get through the area.”
As operations continued, Airmen not only had to carry on with their tasks at hand, but did so while dealing with severe weather conditions. Airmen worked as a team, relying on each other’s accuracy for mission success.
“Our operations here definitely require a team effort,” Sergeant Miles said. “Because of the severity of the weather, our window of opportunity is small. This means each move needs to be completely accurate, whether it’s loading cargo or performing preflight checks. We rely on each other to be on point.”
As the exercise came to a close, the Airmen were able to better understand how tactics effect the mission – not only at the home station but abroad.
“The most important thing we took from this exercise is that we have the know-how to utilize and maximize our capabilities,” Major Gage said. “We have been able to come out here and prove the full spectrum of what we can do.”