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Swift Response 21: 435th CRG opens airfield on demand

An Airman performing a pre-flight check on a Soldier.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cecelia Bak, 435th Contingency Response Squadron mobile aerial porter, left, processes U.S. Army Specialist Cody Davidson, 173rd Headquarters and Headquarters Company Brigade fire support noncommissioned officer, for flight to Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21 at Pápa Air Base, Hungary, May 10, 2021. As part of DEFENDER-Europe, an annual large-scale U.S. Army Europe and Africa-led, multinational, joint exercise, Swift Response is one of several associated exercises designed to build strategic and operational readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO allies and partners. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

A line of Airmen and Soldiers boarding a cargo aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Group and U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 173rd Infantry Brigade board a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft for joint forcible entry into Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21 at Pápa Air Base, Hungary, May 11, 2021. The 435th CRG, attached to the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing located at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is the only contingency response force in the U.S. Air Force that maintains an airborne insertion capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

Airmen pointing on an airfield with an aircraft behind them.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Schnell, 435th Contingency Response Squadron assistant director of operations, center, arrives in Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21, May 11, 2021. During the exercise, the 435th Contingency Response Group executed the opening and operating of an airfield after joint forcible entry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

An airman standing in a field with combat gear.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Paris Bell, 435th CRS airfield manager, secures an initial operating perimeter after joint forcible entry into Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21, May 11, 2021. The 435th Contingency Response Group provides 24/7 alert capabilities through scalable, cross-functional and rapidly deployable forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

An Airman setting up communications equipment in a field.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sean Gilliland, 435th Contingency Response Squadron radio frequency transmissions systems technician, right, establishes communications during exercise Swift Response 21 at Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, May 11, 2021. With its highly skilled, multi-capable Airmen, the 435th Contingency Response Group enabled rapid C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft launch, recovery, airdrop and air-land operations within a strict time frame. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

A cargo aircraft with paratroopers jumping out of it.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, drops Air Force and U.S. Army paratroopers onto Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21, May 11, 2021. Rapid airfield security, assessment and performance of initial airfield operations enabled joint delivery of troops and heavy equipment cargo in a simulated contested environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

The silhouettes of two Airmen wearing helmets and night vision goggles.

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Group prepare for night operations during exercise Swift Response 21 at Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, May 11, 2021. The exercise was an opportunity for the 435th CRG to sharpen its expeditionary skills and demonstrate its ability to stand-up core air mobility support functions and additional combat support functions that enable self-sustained airfield operations in austere locations during a rapidly developing crisis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

Airmen and Soldiers standing next to an aircraft with its ramp down.

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Group support personnel and heavy equipment offload from a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during exercise Swift Response 21 at Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, May 12, 2021. Exercises like Swift Response 21 enhance alliance security by maintaining NATO’s broad range of military capabilities to deter aggression and assure allies of NATO’s readiness to respond. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John R. Wright)

CHESHNEGIROVO AIRFIELD, Bulgaria --

The 435th Contingency Response Group executed the opening and operating of an airfield after joint forcible entry into Cheshnegirovo Airfield, Bulgaria, during exercise Swift Response 21, May 11-12, 2021.

Under cover of darkness, U.S. Air Force Airmen and U.S. Army Soldiers boarded a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft departing Pápa Air Base, Hungary, destined for uncertain terrain.

Upon arrival, the first light of daybreak revealed a remote airfield surrounded by mountains and overgrown vegetation.

Rapid airfield security and assessment were conducted by the 435th CRG team, and, after establishing initial airfield operations in a simulated contested environment, the joint delivery of troops and heavy equipment cargo was enabled.

“The 435th CRG contributed a self-sufficient team capable of establishing and sustaining airfield operations with minimal resources,” said Tech. Sgt. Paris Bell, 435th Contingency Response Squadron airfield manager. “We have everything we need to support airlift missions in a contingency environment.”

Attached to the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing located at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the 435th CRG is the only contingency response force in the Air Force that maintains an airborne insertion capability.

“The airborne capability of the assessment team and the first-in security team provides a wide range of options for commanders, from the combatant command down to group or brigade level, to employ the critical skill sets that the two teams bring to the fight,” said Capt. Andrew Schnell, 435th CRS assistant director of operations. “The capability also allows us to fully integrate with the (Army) 173rd Airborne Brigade, allowing a seamless transition between securing the airfield and accepting follow-on forces via air-land aircraft.”

With its highly skilled, multi-capable Airmen, the 435th CRG enabled rapid C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft launch, recovery, airdrop and air-land operations within a strict time frame.

“Contingency response Airmen are the epitome of the multi-capable Airman concept,” Bell said. “In order to achieve mission success, it is essential for Airmen within the CRG to be both subject matter experts in their specific career fields and flexible enough to operate efficiently outside the scope of their specialties. Versatility is not a new concept to the CRG – contingency response personnel are the original multi-capable Airmen.”

As part of DEFENDER-Europe, an annual large-scale U.S. Army Europe and Africa-led, multinational, joint exercise, Swift Response is one of several associated exercises designed to build strategic and operational readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO allies and partners.

“The opportunity to work with the 173rd (Airborne Brigade) and our NATO allies and partners is always something I am grateful for,” Schnell said. “Strong relationships with both the joint force and our NATO allies, and partners is critical to the security of the European theater and a key aspect of deterrence.”

Swift Response 21 is an opportunity for the 435th CRG to sharpen its expeditionary skills and demonstrate its ability to stand-up core air mobility support functions and additional combat support functions that enable self-sustained airfield operations in austere locations during a rapidly developing crisis.

“An airfield assessment supporting a joint forcible entry is a PhD-level assessment, requiring extensive coordination between contingency response forces and the 173rd Airborne Brigade,” Schnell said. “From planning through execution, the team worked closely with their Army counterparts, ensuring a smooth transition of authority following the seizure. The team performed incredibly well in an extremely complicated environment, and I am proud of every member.”

Whether it be for exercises in peacetime or supplying forces in crisis, the U.S. military’s ability to conduct military movement across borders in Europe is key to the readiness of NATO allies and partners. Exercises like Swift Response 21 enhance alliance security by maintaining NATO’s broad range of military capabilities to deter aggression and assure allies of NATO’s readiness to respond.

“Swift Response was an overall resounding success from both a joint and partner nation integration perspective,” said Col. Jason Work, 435th CRG commander. “The exercise allowed us to increase the readiness of Army and Air Force units, as well as increase interoperability with our partners in Hungary and Bulgaria. Swift Response is a critical piece of the DEFENDER-Europe exercise series designed to support NATO deterrence objectives, and the 435th CRG was honored to participate.”