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Airmen return from Africa Partnership Station 2009 support

by Staff Sgt. Francis Lalic
21st Air Mobility Operations Squadron

10/2/2009 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing here recently returned from a six-month split deployment to West Central Africa in support of Africa Partnership Station 2009, which is an initiative aimed at improving maritime safety and regional security on the African continent.

Africa Partnership Station is an international, joint service initiative spearheaded by U.S. Naval forces together with European and African allies to work cooperatively with U.S. and international partners in support of U.S. Africa Command's Security Cooperation program.

Activities consist of multinational joint exercises, port visits, hands-on practical courses, professional training and community outreach with the coastal nations of Africa.

During the deployment, members of the 21st Air Mobility Operations Squadron supported a contingent of 77 Navy Seabees on a road and pier construction project. The Airmen set up a satellite communications package, complete with classified and unclassified Internet capability, computer network and worldwide phone access, to provide mission and morale communication support for the Navy personnel. In addition, they provided and maintained a three-in-one shelter system with generators and environmental control units to house the communications node.

"This was a phenomenal opportunity to work with U.S. Navy and Cameroon forces in support of the (Department of Defense's) newest combatant command," said Lt. Col. Mark MacDonald, the 21st AMOS commander. "It also provided the AMOS fantastic training in getting 'out the door' and sustaining operations with our expeditionary shelters and communications packages."

Contributing beyond their core mission skill sets, the 21st AMOS Airmen also assisted in erecting five bed-down facilities, maintaining and repairing generators supplying power to the encampment, augmenting more than 150 hours of vehicle maintenance, aiding a Navy underwater construction team by installing buoys and anchors for pier and jetty construction, and training on various weapons with U.S. Navy SEAL teams and Cameroonian forces.

"The experience was outstanding, and I'm a little taken back by the impact we were able to have," said Tech. Sgt. Nathan McNeely, a power production specialist with the 21st AMOS.

"Our team rolled into an austere location with limited infrastructure and was able to provide a sustained communications package in a joint environment," he said. "At home station, we train for opportunities like this, but when we get to push the equipment out the door and put it to use where it counts, there's genuine job satisfaction. Whether we've facilitated mission operations or just provided a means of correspondence to friends and family, our capability is appreciated."

The Airmen also completed several school beautification and safety-enhancement projects in a downtown African community. The projects included refurbishing four classrooms and re-wiring an entire school's electrical system.

"We've had the pleasure of augmenting the Seabees in various stages of the construction project," Sergeant McNeely said. "Sometimes we're receiving training, other times, we're sharing our knowledge, but through this effort we've established excellent rapport and camaraderie with the team."

Tech. Sgt. Jason Roberts, an air operation center system-data communication craftsman with the 21st AMOS, said the Africa Partnership Station deployment was rewarding and that he was glad to be part of such an important joint service mission.

"The Navy was very friendly and hospitable, and there were many lessons learned from both a communications and deployment standpoint," Sergeant Roberts added. "It was a very rare working environment for the communications side of the house and it had us dealing with issues we normally never see on the short term deployments that we do."

Colonel MacDonald echoed Sergeant Robert's sentiments.

"This was a unique opportunity for the 21st AMOS to expand our deployment repertoire beyond the mission sets we normally support," he said. "The experience we gained from this extended exercise will certainly pay huge dividends in our primary operations. Africa Partnership Station also demonstrated to the joint community the unique capabilities this wing possesses to meet expeditionary and contingency requirements."

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