JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Group participated in a Joint Readiness Training Center exercise with their Guard and Reserve partners Jan. 31-Feb. 9 at Alexandria International Airport, Louisiana, and a nearby landing zone.
The exercise enabled skills proficiency training for more than 100 Airmen while facilitating critical upgrade training for nearly two dozen Airmen. The exercise came at a time where COVID-19 has resulted in a reduction of training opportunities necessary to maintain the unit’s ability to respond to contingency operations worldwide within 12 hours of notification.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Casey Cowan, 321st Contingency Response Squadron contingency response element acting commander, said that while the wing has been able to maintain readiness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, large-scale exercises like this allow for more realistic training for them to become more proficient to ensure missions go off without a hitch.
The training event kicked off with a CRE conducting airbase opening operations for an intermediate staging base at Alexandria International Airport while smaller contingency response teams set up a forward operating base at a nearby landing zone.
Once set up, the team was able to manage airfield operations to support a Joint Forcible Entry exercise, which included nearly 650 members from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as well as some members from the Brazilian Air Force. A JFE is a large-scale airdrop and airland mobility mission which involves an air assault into a simulated contested battlefield.
Cowan said this training was just as critical for the 621st Contingency Response Wing as it was for the Army and other units playing due to their rapid deployment capabilities.
“It goes back to ensuring all our new individuals are getting training and that they’re ready when we get the phone call to go jump on an aircraft and open an airbase and be ready to support the Army, Air Force and whoever is coming with the follow-on forces,” he said.
After the JFE exercise, the Airmen focused on supporting Exercise Green Flag Little Rock 21-04 by overseeing military airfield operations at Alexandria International Airport and the forward operating base while providing capabilities such as command and control, cargo processing, in-transit visibility of cargo, and contingency maintenance.
The exercise allowed Airmen to test some new equipment away from home station for the first time. The capabilities included a new tent system, which enabled Airmen to have a facility set up for a tactical operations center in less time than previous models. Another item they employed was the small communications package. The package contained more ruggedized equipment than previous systems and was comprised of networking stacks and a larger satellite dish, resulting in a stronger signal to provide communications capabilities for the deployed team. A benefit this new system provides is that it can be packed down smaller to where it can fit on a pallet or even be hand carried onto an aircraft.
The training event also gave the Airmen a chance to integrate with their total force partners from the 452nd CRS from March Air Reserve Base, California, as well as the Puerto Rico Air National Guard’s 156th CRG.
“It’s my first exercise and I’m learning a lot,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Isaias Rivera, 156th CRG pilot who was observing the CRE director of operations position. “I get to see your unit do what they know how to do best; they’ve been doing it a long time and it’s good to see professionals do something that they’re actually very good at.”
Rivera said his unit is still relatively new to contingency response since the official announcement of their mission transition in April 2019. Since then, they have been trying to integrate with the 621st CRW for more observation and training qualification opportunities as they work toward a fully operational status.
Other units participating in the overall exercise effort included the 34th Combat Training Squadron, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, as well as various Air Mobility Command flying units.
“The exercise was excellent, and the morale was high for sure,” said Cowan. “As far as COVID goes, we’re actually using all the same exact policies we implemented at Exercise Swamp Devil back in August and we haven’t had any cases so far … I think we have shown that you can safely exercise and train and still maintain the health and readiness of the force.”