Coming together for COPE NORTH

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Black
  • 36th Mobility Response Group commander
A typhoon has devastated the fictional island nation of "Guastralia." Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command has tasked the 36th Contingency Response Group to team up with Royal Australian Air Force, Japanese Air Self Defense Force, and Republic of Korea Air Force counterparts to open "Novotonia Air Base," a bare base at which the U.S. Government is delivering relief supplies by C-130s from Australia, Japan, and the U.S.--staged from the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam during Exercise COPE NORTH 2013. Not only are political factions on Guastralia flaring up, but the people are hungry and restive.

Beginning at Andersen, the deploying members teamed up with the 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron and other units from Team Andersen to rapidly prepare for a complex deployment involving eleven C-130 chalks for the mission and the bed down of approximately eighty personnel. The LRS worked through the night to ensure the coalition was ready for their trip the next day, and off we went to Guastralia.

Within several hours, the coalition had built a functioning camp, operations center, and aerial port. C-130s, using tactical landing, takeoff, and airdrop procedures, immediately began delivering relief pallets, providing challenges for logisticians, engineers, security forces, and leadership. The simulated U.S. Embassy country team, higher headquarters, and host nation all combined to inject further problem-solving scenarios for the team. Not to be forgotten, neighboring "Taipan," which was located in the vicinity of Tinian Island, needed help, too, so the team forward-deployed an element to assist there, as well, receiving C-130s and relief pallets and living on the airport grounds.

During all this, our coalition Defenders practiced non-lethal security techniques, securing the camp in spite of hungry and insistent bands of "villagers" requesting food and wanting to meet the camp commander. Fortunately, the team's medical technicians were not kept too busy with many actual injuries or illness, so they were able to practice medical evacuation when a U.S. Agency for International Development actor required assistance in Taipan. We were even able to take some time--when the air tasking order allowed--for some morale events to build camaraderie among the four countries' Airmen. (High-levels of diplomacy ensued during discussions on the aspects and differences between American and Australian football after a re-broadcast of Monday's Superbowl on a DVD.)

Guastralia and Taipan may be imaginary, as was the typhoon, but the idea is very real with the many storms that traverse the Pacific annually, along with tsunami, earthquakes, and volcanoes in the area, and all of the small island territories and nations throughout the PACOM area of responsibility. The Pacific Air Forces command staff is aware of two major facts: The next disaster can happen anytime, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief--or HA/DR--will have many participants and agencies from countries around the world. Building partnerships within the theater is not only desirable, it is a necessity to maintain peaceful relations and also to effectively respond to whatever Mother Nature throws at us.

Therefore, as part of the CRG's and 36th Wing's mission is to build partnerships with other nations in the theater, COPE NORTH provides an ideal opportunity for us to not only share our own ideas on how we perform our military duties, whether it is HA/DR or air-to-air combat, but to hear how our partners do the same and maybe learn a thing or two that we in the USAF can try out.

Events like COPE NORTH are the fun part of this job. I have been able to spend a full week in the field on the historic pavement of Northwest Field with a tremendous group of people from my own unit as well as others. Everybody has different interests and varying perspectives, and the opportunity to see our Airmen teach and learn--often at the same time--is gratifying as a unit commander as well as an Airman myself, and I know that what we are practicing on Guam may just come in handy some day when we have to do it for real.