The U.S. Air Force’s 821st Contingency Response Group demonstrated its ability to quickly build combat and sustainment power by conducting C-130 supply delivery operations June 16, 2016, at the Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) airstrip in support of Swift Response 16, here.
In a show of speed and adaptability, the Air Force performed eight landings on the 3600-foot unimproved dirt airstrip. Airmen rapidly offloaded supplies with the engines still running, and the aircraft departed almost as quickly as they arrived. This effort helped train Air Force personnel in the key task of delivery operations to support the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Brigade.
Exercise Swift Response is one of the premier military crisis response training events for multi-national airborne forces in the world. The exercise is designed to enhance the readiness of the combat core of the U.S. Global Response Force – currently the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team – to conduct rapid-response, joint-forcible entry and follow-on operations alongside Allied high-readiness forces in Europe.
The Swift Response scenario, which involves Allied and partner forces intervening in the notional state of Atropia, adds complexity to difficult operations such as short landings and deliveries, said Maj. Aaron A. Cook, Air Mobility Liaison Officer with the 621st Mobility Support Operations Squadron from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
“It absolutely makes the event more complex because we’re trying to maintain an accurate chain of events within the scenario,” Cook said. “That timeline is pretty vital in making sure that the training stays realistic for everyone involved in the exercise.”
The complexity that the scenario brings to delivery operations results from both the collaboration between forces and the intricate sequence of events in the narrative, Cook said. It began with Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and an Air Force airfield assessment team assaulting the airstrip and seizing it on June 15. Airmen then performed a field assessment and relayed the results to mission planners at Ramstein Air Base so that they could then safely land C-130s on the STOL.
A second and simultaneous STOL operation further complicated matters. In order to build the amount of combat power required to outfit two brigades training here, the vast majority of the vehicles and equipment were actually driven to Hohenfles and staged at this second STOL, awaiting deployment.
“That additional burden of trying to maintain that timeline accurately and realistically, and the aircraft coming [from] Ramstein, make it a much more difficult process to keep things on time and keep that training realistic,” Cook said.
Even though the airstrip and landings for the second operation were notional, the exercise required participants to treat the notional deliveries as seriously as the actual ones. These vehicles on the ground were assigned to notional aircraft, and weren’t allowed to even move until their aircraft landed. This of course required the meticulous planning and skills of expert logisticians.
Before they deliver supplies to the ground troops, Air Force personnel need to establish an efficient cargo offloading operation, said Lt. Col. Brian E. Broekemeier, a functional area manager with the Headquarters Air Mobility Command from Scott Air Force Base. He explained that such an operation, known as a port opening, requires equipment and sustainment supplies and that these comprise the cargo of the first four deliveries. Subsequent landings would then use the port opening to download weapons, vehicles and supplies for the ground.
While it can be difficult to manage complexities such as the scenario timeline, weather, safety and coordination with the Army, doing so with speed is the goal of this training, Cook said. “It exercises the Air Force’s ability to respond extremely quickly to the Army’s need for bringing in supplies rapidly to build their combat power,” Cook said.
Swift Response 16 includes more than 5,000 Soldiers and Airmen from Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United States and takes place in Poland and Germany, May 27-June 26, 2016.