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Contingency Response Airmen battle elements at JRTC

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Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response wing participated in combat exercise "Decisive Action" Oct. 10 through 22 as part of a Joint Task Force to prepare for future deployments.

Approximately 100 Airmen from the 570th Contingency Response Group, based at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and 60 soldiers from the U.S Army's 689th Rapid Port Opening Element at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., deployed Oct. 10 as Joint Task Force - Port Opening. Their mission was to open, secure and operate the Geronimo Landing Zone as an aerial transportation hub for Joint Readiness Training Center exercise 13-01.

In addition, another 60-Airman contingency response element from the 571st CRG established aerial port operations at Alexandria La. Airport. This force was responsible for processing passengers and cargo, flying from 'Alex' to the Geronimo LZ.

The JRTC is a training center where airborne, special operations and Soldiers prepare for future combat deployments. The tight integration of the CRG into the overall battlespace was unlike any previous deployment for the CRW, explained Col. Darren Sprunk, 570th CRG commander.

"There were a lot of firsts in this exercise," he said. "Never before has a full JTF-PO been deployed to JRTC. As a concept validation, we feel we have proven our worth in a combat environment."

"We have also never done an exercise this long in these conditions," Sprunk continued. "We've operated for two weeks in total blackout, while defending our perimeter from enemy action and conducting 24-hour air mobility operations. It is remarkable to see how professional and ingenious these Airmen have been as they overcame countless obstacles and accomplished the mission."

One of the challenges has been hygiene, or the proud lack of it to be more precise, while working in field conditions, said Sprunk.

"I told our Airmen before we left; 'this is going to be very difficult," he said "But after 14 days without a shower, now we almost feel sorry for the people on our team back home who couldn't be a part of this experience. These hardships and accomplishments have forged a team anyone would be proud to be a part of."

In addition to operating an aerial port and cargo handling operation, the CRG Airmen were also responsible for defending it. Security forces Airmen coordinated the preparation of a defensive perimeter and gave every Airman a vital fighting role.

These plans were put to the ultimate test Oct. 18. The opposing forces at JRTC broke through the outer U.S. Army defenses and threatened to overrun the CRG compound with armored vehicles. Through close coordination with quick reaction forces and the timely arrival of an M-1 Abrams and a pair of M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicles, the 621st Airmen defended their camp without any fatalities.

"It went as well as it possibly could," said 1st Lt. Justin Whitford, 570th Global Mobility Readiness Squadron force protection flight chief. "Everybody kept their cool and we won the battle, and that's always a good thing. In addition, it opened our eyes to areas we can improve on to be a more effective combat force in the future."

"I am also very proud of my close precision engagement team for their outstanding contributions to the Army," Whitford said. "They provided incredibly valuable intelligence on the status of enemy forces and got 14 kills while gathering it."

After two weeks at Geronimo, Sprunk thinks the most valuable lesson his Airmen learned wasn't out of any manual, checklist or technical order. It came from somewhere deeper.

"We all have that secret doubt about how we would respond in combat," Sprunk said. "What I told everyone before we left was to treat this (exercise) as if it was real and you will answer your question (doubt). From this day on, you will have a sense of confidence in future engagements."

Article by Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres, 621st Contingency Response Wing public affairs