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Eagle Flag prepares participants for real-world success

by Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs


5/17/2007 - FORT DIX, N.J. (AFPN)  -- Air Force Exercise Eagle Flag is designed to bring together expeditionary combat support skills a combatant commander needs to open an air base, provide command and control, and establish an air base in a realistic contingency environment.

It's a natural match to include in that exercise a contingency response group, or CRG, unit. According to Air Force doctrine, a CRG is essentially the Air Force's standing initial air base opening response force, scalable to fit the mission. These units are designed as organic, rapid response, initial air base opening units.

Col. Richard Walberg, the commander of the 818th Contingency Response Group at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., has taken his unit to places around the world doing what it was designed to do -- open an air base and begin operations.

With deployments to places like Pakistan for earthquake relief and New Orleans to support Joint Task Force Katrina, the 818th CRG is no stranger to quick response air mobility. In between those real-world deployments, Colonel Walberg said it's important to maintain readiness. He added that Air Force Exercise Eagle Flag, operated by the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center here, offers an "excellent" opportunity for CRG units to practice their readiness.

"The way Eagle Flag is set up -- they have approximately six exercises a year," Colonel Walberg said. "It works out to where each CRG participates in one of those exercises."

Colonel Walberg said Eagle Flag isn't the starting point for readiness, but more the ending point to test capabilities.

"If you're going to do this and do it right, you can't wait for your turn at Eagle Flag to get ready," Colonel Walberg said. "You have to get out of wherever you are in garrison and practice to be ready. You need to get out and practice things like small arms tactics and building Alaskan tents. You essentially need to be expeditionary ready 365 days a year."

Col. Raymond Torres, the commandant of the Air Force Expeditionary Operations School that coordinates Eagle Flag through the 421st Combat Training Squadron, said the Air Force decision to organize contingency response groups for the air base opening mission has enhanced expeditionary capabilities and makes sense to include them into Eagle Flag.

"Examples, such as the use of CRGs in Pakistan following their earthquakes and in New Orleans following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, validated we are on the path to success," Colonel Torres said. "Eagle Flag ... allows CRGs to execute their skills in the field and adds the air expeditionary group into the mix to work the follow-on forces and plan for a robust air base, ready to conduct operations."

Colonel Torres said the exercise is stressful, but beneficial.

"They get to practice their expeditionary skills in a real deployed environment," Colonel Torres said. "They learn not only their functional field craft, but also how to work together in an expeditionary environment."

Colonel Walberg has taken his CRG unit to Eagle Flag more than once and said he's convinced the exercise has aided his unit's success when it has been called upon to deploy.

"Based on my experience in both humanitarian relief operations from the last 20-plus years and combat situations in this business, Eagle Flag is the best training I have ever seen."

The composition of a CRG team will vary depending on mission requirements, but will normally include all core capabilities. Eagle Flag scenarios are built to prepare CRG units for those possible situations they might encounter to include a humanitarian relief operation or an air field seizure.

"The center's cadre who holds this field training work very hard with you and watch you," Colonel Walberg said.

"If you show them that you have taken to heart the training in Air Force Manual 10-100 (the Airman's Manual) for example, have listened to what the security forces tell you, the Eagle Flag cadre will let you know you have met the training objective and were successful," Colonel Walberg said. "However, if you are doing something wrong, the cadre is excellent at zeroing in on that defect and helping you learn what went wrong." 

Colonel Walberg said the Eagle Flag training "mirrors reality," as opposed to "following a script."

"Eagle Flag training is adjusted on the fly based on the capabilities of the CRG commander in the field and his team," Colonel Walberg said. "Some units are better than others, but the point is the training stresses you accordingly and makes you better overall."



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