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Andersen and Yokota Airmen train for disaster relief operations

  • Published
  • By Capt. Andrew G. Hoskinson
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 36th Contingency Response Group here and aircrews from the 374th Operations Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, participated in a mock deployment to Northwest Field Feb. 17-18 to rehearse time-critical actions for disaster relief operations.

The CRG, which participated in relief operations in Indonesia following the Sep. 30, 2009 earthquake, hosted two aircrews from Yokota in order to plan and prepare for any future disaster response in the Asia-Pacific region.

"This is an opportunity for the 374th Airlift Wing and the 36th Wing to work together to provide 13th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces, and Pacific Command with a much faster ability to get to a location when a disaster occurs in the theater," said Col. Daniel Settergren, 36th CRG commander.

Planned and executed by the Andersen and Yokota wings, the exercise was designed to incorporate lessons learned from recent disaster relief efforts in Indonesia and Haiti.

Citing the aftermath of the recent Haiti earthquake, Colonel Settergren said that the massive amount of relief supplies arriving at a location can quickly overwhelm an airfield. He emphasized that it is important to provide support with an initial communications, ground control and survey capability that opens the door for follow-on relief efforts.

"The first thing to do is to make sure that the aircraft coming in with relief supplies can be unloaded and moved out of the way as quickly as possible, so that things don't back up on the airfield," said Colonel Settergren. "To help within the first few hours and first few days after a disaster is absolutely critical to saving lives."

By scaling down equipment and personnel to a bare minimum, this capability is adequately prepared to deploy to a natural disaster zone at a moment's notice, according to Colonel Settergren.

During the CRG's deployment to Indonesia last fall, the unit was part of a larger entity known as the Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team. The HARRT is a 60-person team designed to deploy via two C-17 Globemaster or six C-130 Hercules aircraft.

But the team ran into some delays due to limited capacity at the Padang airfield. According to Colonel Settergren, it would have been useful to put a smaller advance team in place, prior to the HARRT's arrival, augmenting the airfield and air traffic control capacity.

Initial surveys of the Haiti earthquake relief efforts indicated similar problems.

The two C-130s in this exercise provide sufficient airlift capability for the CRG to put six to ten people on the ground, along with basic equipment such as radios and a forklift. This contingent would support host nation airfield operations and prepare the way for the arrival of the HARRT and other organizations participating in relief efforts, according to Colonel Settergren.

Because Yokota C-130s are the most forward-positioned airlift assets in PACAF, they are ideally located to provide the airlift capability that is needed to respond quickly and effectively in a crisis, according to Col. Mark Hering, 374th OG commander.

"It's a balancing act. There is never enough airlift, and one of the objectives of this exercise was to determine the optimal mix of CRG capability and maintenance equipment that we could deploy using two C-130s," said Colonel Hering. "One of the biggest successes of this event was validating this mix and then actually deploying from Andersen to set up in another location."

The two C-130s simulated a deployment by taking off from Andersen's airfield and then landing at Northwest Field, only a few miles away.

"In essence, the only thing we're missing from the real thing is hours of flight time," said Colonel Hering. "This is an ideal setup to execute and practice what we will potentially be asked to do."

For the CRG Airmen, the opportunity to plan and execute a mock deployment using Yokota's aircraft was tremendous.

"Anytime you execute with the aircraft, you learn something new," said Colonel Settergren. "We're getting some training here that is tough for us to get. It's training that we need to have and this is great."

The CRG members and C-130 aircrews set up a base camp and remained overnight at Northwest Field.

"This has been a tremendous success. We look forward to continuing to build on this partnership and to be ready to respond to future crises in our region," said Colonel Hering. "The bottom line is that we're postured to respond if a disaster comes up."