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'Open the air base' unit returns from successful desert trial

by Capt. Michael Meridith
816th Contingency Response Group Public Affairs - Deployed

11/1/2005 - MCGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, N.J. (AFPN) -- Say you need to move troops to a war zone in some isolated region or relief supplies to a devastated area, and you need to do it in a hurry. 

Who do you call?

The men and women of the 816th Contingency Response Group have a simple answer: "Call us."

From Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the recent earthquake in Pakistan, 18th Air Force's CRG Airmen have proven the effectiveness of the Air Force's "open the air base" (force module), said Col. Lloyd Moon, 816th CRG commander.

"A CRG is a self-sufficient group of 113 multi-skilled, highly-trained Airmen, representing 34 different Air Force specialty codes, who can rapidly deploy anywhere in the world with little notice to open air bases for any follow-on mission," said Lt. Col. Tom Santoro, 816th Global Mobility Readiness Squadron commander.

While proud of their accomplishments during recent disaster relief operations, CRG personnel are also proud of their participation in Bright Star '05 -- the joint, multinational exercise that recently wrapped up in Egypt.

Bright Star marked the first time the CRG's capabilities were tested in a joint, coalition environment simulating actual combat conditions. It also featured the debut of the first joint CRG, also known as Joint Task Force - Port Opening. It successfully merged Army and Air Force mobility capabilities under one umbrella. With a JTF-PO, combatant commanders are able to rapidly open deployment and distribution networks in their areas of responsibility.

"(The Air Force and Army) were one team with a shared vision. If I needed support from them, or vice versa, we were able to quickly reach out to each other. I think that is one of the main reasons we were so successful," said Master Sgt. Robert Crawley, who led the integration of Airmen and Soldiers into a single Joint Terminal Operations Center.

One hundred and thirteen Airmen belonging to the 816th deployed to Egypt for Bright Star. Within hours of their Aug. 23 arrival they had set up a fully-functional air base, and four days later, a second one. During their two-month deployment, these Airmen supported more than 270 airlift missions and 10 aeromedical evacuations and processed more than 13,000 passengers and 1,450 tons of cargo.

"What we proved was the fact that you could take different services and coalition partners and bring them together with all the support they need to rapidly carry out their mission. When our country calls we can quickly go anywhere in the world and set up shop," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Kenley, who coordinated airfield support and maintenance for more than 20 types of aircraft from five nations.

The dizzying pace of activities did nothing to subdue the spirits of the CRG Airmen, who were proud to see the fruits of their labor each day.

"The operations tempo was really high, but as a group we worked really well together. It didn't matter if you were a maintenance troop or an aerial porter, Air Force or Army, we all came together to get the mission done," said Master Sgt. George Motil, who led the group's maintenance efforts.

"The whole experience was very intense; we would move 500 or more passengers in a single day. Because of it, I learned a lot, especially from working alongside people with so many different jobs and skills," said Staff Sgt. Dustan Hurd, who assessed and set up critical communications links at both deployed bases.

Although the last element of the 816th CRG returned from Egypt Oct. 25, the group is not resting. Members are currently deployed in support of earthquake relief in Pakistan and the group itself is standing by to assist with hurricane relief in Florida, if called.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished in Egypt," said Lt. Col. Patrick Owens, who led the CRG element at Jiyanklis, the first air base set up for the Bright Star 05 exercise. "Our Airmen and their Army partners did the job above and beyond the call and duty, they always filled in wherever there was a requirement for assistance, and they did so safely. I think this demonstration of the JCRG was a great first step to having a more robust and capable organization."  

(Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)

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