Contingency Response Wing Takes on Africa Mission

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., July 20, 2011 — An Air Force wing that stood up here to open air­fields any­where in the world on short notice soon will take on a new mis­sion, help­ing African mil­i­taries estab­lish their own air mobil­i­ty sys­tems.

The 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing “Dev­il Raiders” and the wing’s sis­ter unit at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., stand ready to be respond with­in 12 hours to deliv­er any­thing from troops to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance where no oper­a­tional air­field exists, explained Air Force Col. Chris “Krispy” Pat­ter­son, the wing com­man­der.

“We are that mobile air­field that can go any­where in the world to open up an exist­ing air­field or cre­ate an air­field so these mobil­i­ty air­planes can land and offload their car­go,” he said.

It’s a capa­bil­i­ty the Dev­il Raiders have been called on since being stood up in 2005 to sup­port com­bat oper­a­tions as well as human­i­tar­i­an relief mis­sions in Pak­istan, Haiti and Japan. Now, a new squadron being estab­lished with­in the wing will share that exper­tise to help African mil­i­taries build or strength­en their own air mobil­i­ty sys­tems.

The 818th Mobil­i­ty Sup­port Advi­so­ry Squadron was estab­lished in April and is expect­ed to reach ini­tial oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty in Decem­ber, Pat­ter­son said.

With one-third of its 73 air­men on board, and the rest to arrive by the year’s end, the air­men already are lay­ing plans for their first engage­ments on the African con­ti­nent. An ini­tial plan­ning con­fer­ence is expect­ed to take place next month in Ghana, with the first men­tor­ing, advis­ing and instruc­tion there like­ly by spring, Pat­ter­son said.

“We won’t be teach­ing peo­ple how to fly air­planes,” Pat­ter­son clar­i­fied. “We want to teach them how to devel­op an air mobil­i­ty sys­tem.”

The instruc­tion will cov­er the myr­i­ad issues such a sys­tem entails: sched­ul­ing and main­tain­ing them, estab­lish­ing com­mand and con­trol, set­ting up an air­field, run­ning an air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem, devel­op­ing a sus­tain­able fuel sup­ply, and train­ing air crews, among them.

“My mis­sion is to build part­ner capac­i­ty, and my goal is to leave them phys­i­cal­ly bet­ter than when we got there,” Pat­ter­son said. “That way, when we leave, they will have skills and knowl­edge they did not have when we got there.”

Air mobil­i­ty is crit­i­cal to a government’s abil­i­ty to get to the far­thest reach­es of its ter­ri­to­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly in times of cri­sis, Pat­ter­son said.

“If there is a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter in a part of the coun­try and the pres­i­dent of that coun­try can’t get there to see his peo­ple and assure they that they are going to be tak­en care of, some­body else is going to do it for them — even if it is some­body we don’t want doing that,” he said.

“To me, that is fun­da­men­tal­ly what we are try­ing to attack,” Pat­ter­son said. “How do we help coun­tries become stronger so they aren’t ripe for ter­ror­ists and insur­gents to go in and gain a foothold and start devel­op­ing and train­ing that kind of mind­set?”

Being able to open up air­fields, deliv­er relief sup­plies, con­duct aeromed­ical evac­u­a­tions and pro­vide oth­er dis­as­ter sup­port helps val­i­date a government’s pow­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing poten­tial­ly desta­bi­liz­ing times of cri­sis, he said.

That, in turn, will help enable nations to pro­vide their own first respons­es when need­ed. Ulti­mate­ly, Pat­ter­son said, he expects it to put less future demand on the 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing.

As the men­tor­ship pro­gram devel­ops and grows, Pat­ter­son said he envi­sions tai­lor­ing it to spe­cif­ic coun­tries’ needs by tap­ping exper­tise from across the 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing.

In the six years since it was stood up along with the 615th Con­tin­gency Response Wing at Travis Air Force Base, the 621st air­men have respond­ed to press­ing com­bat as well as human­i­tar­i­an response require­ments.

When Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced the 30,000-troop surge for the war in Afghanistan in Decem­ber 2009, the wing imme­di­ate­ly dis­patched air­men there to deter­mine where the arriv­ing forces and their equip­ment could land.

“The air­fields were already oper­at­ing most­ly at max­i­mum capac­i­ty. So we need­ed to fig­ure out a way to increase the air mobil­i­ty capac­i­ty with­in Afghanistan,” Pat­ter­son said.

A 17-per­son detach­ment from the 621st wing con­duct­ed air­field assess­ments through­out the coun­try to deter­mine which air­fields that weren’t already receiv­ing large C-17 Globe­mas­ter III and C-5 Galaxy air­craft could be expand­ed to accom­mo­date them.

“That real­ly became the back­bone that gave [U.S. Trans­porta­tion Com­mand] the abil­i­ty to fig­ure out how they were going to answer the president’s chal­lenge of putting 30,000 addi­tion­al forces there,” Pat­ter­son said.

Sim­i­lar­ly, an air mobil­i­ty oper­a­tions squadron from the 621st deployed to Ram­stein Air Base, Ger­many, with­in four hours of being called to help plan tanker air refu­el­ing sup­port for sor­ties enforc­ing the no-fly zone over Libya.

When the Unit­ed States hand­ed con­trol of that mis­sion over to NATO, squadron mem­bers helped stand up the NATO air oper­a­tions cen­ter in Naples, Italy, then returned home to New Jer­sey.

That explains in a nut­shell what the 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing is all about, Pat­ter­son said.

“We deploy ver­sa­tile mobil­i­ty air­men to solve prob­lems in com­plex envi­ron­ments,” he said. And once those prob­lems are solved, they return to their home base to ready them­selves for the next short-notice deploy­ment.

“That’s what makes us dif­fer­ent from all the oth­er [Air Force] wings,” Pat­ter­son said. “We nev­er know where we are going to go and we nev­er know what the prob­lems are going to be.”

As a result, wing lead­ers teach their air­men that no mat­ter how big the chal­lenge that con­fronts them, “No” is not an accept­able answer, Pat­ter­son said.

“It’s not ‘No, I can’t.’ It’s ‘Hmmm. Let me fig­ure out how I can,’” he said. “Every­where we go, it is going to be dif­fer­ent, so we want our air­men to think­ing about how they are going to tack­le the prob­lems they face.”

At no time is that capa­bil­i­ty more crit­i­cal — or more per­son­al­ly grat­i­fy­ing — than when it’s to relieve human suf­fer­ing in a time of cri­sis, Pat­ter­son said.

Just sev­en months after it was stood up in 2005, the wing respond­ed to its first human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis, the 7.6-magnitude earth­quake in Pak­istan. Last sum­mer, as the 621st deployed again to Pak­istan to pro­vide sup­port dur­ing mas­sive flood­ing there, some of the return­ing air­men were delight­ed to run into some of the same peo­ple they had worked with at the air­port five years ear­li­er.

The wing also sent aer­i­al porters to Mis­awa Air Base, Japan, fol­low­ing the mag­ni­tude 9.0 earth­quake and tsuna­mi there in March.

But the 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing’s largest human­i­tar­i­an response mis­sion to date fol­lowed a dev­as­tat­ing Jan­u­ary 2010 earth­quake in Haiti that left much of the coun­try in rub­ble. Near­ly every one of the wing’s 650 air­men par­tic­i­pat­ed, open­ing the Port-au-Prince air­port, secur­ing the air­field and pro­vid­ing air traf­fic con­trol as air­craft arrived from around the world bear­ing relief sup­plies.

Pat­ter­son said the chance to sup­port these kinds of mis­sions and make a real dif­fer­ence in people’s lives is the biggest reward for a 621st Con­tin­gency Response Wing air­man whose live resolves around being ready to deploy any­where, any time.

“It makes you proud to see how pas­sion­ate the air­men are about what they do,” he said. “They are the ones on the ground, shak­ing hands, deliv­er­ing food, hold­ing lit­tle kids. They all have a tremen­dous sense of pride.

“And when you lis­ten to some 20-year-old tell his sto­ry, you real­ize that he under­stands how what he does fits into the big­ger, glob­al pic­ture,” he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)