435th AGOW conducts exercise Lending Hand

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Elizabeth Baker
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

On a remote corner of Ramstein Air Base, Airmen wearing Kevlar and helmets stretch barbed-wire barriers around the perimeter of a gravel clearing. Inside the perimeter, many more airmen are at work. Personnel in hardhats and gloves raise tents to house network equipment. More Kevlar-clad Airmen erect a high-vantage security camera, and in another corner of the construction, uniformed members assemble satellites and weather-detecting equipment.


The scene playing out is practice for opening a base in an austere environment. If a disaster hits a European country that requests aid from the U.S., the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing must be able to reach that country and reclaim or establish a base quickly so that they can start airlifting aid in as soon as possible. To keep those skills sharp, the 435th AGOW conducted Exercise Lending Hand, bringing together the entire wing to practice and inspect contingency response.


Lt. Col. Denis Briceno, 435th AGOW inspector general, explained the role of the 435th AGOW in a disaster situation where a country has requested U.S. aid.


“We would be bringing humanitarian support, administrative support, and a U.S. presence,” Briceno said. “We would also be the hub for nongovernment organizations to send humanitarian relief through our pipeline.”


Humanitarian relief includes supplies like food, water, medical kits, medical equipment, medical personnel, and anything else necessary to support recovery.  


Though many of the wing’s organizations are used to contributing to the mission by themselves, Briceno said that Exercise Lending Hand inspected the entire wing’s ability to communicate and function together. The scenario they tested is the wing’s response to a magnitude 6.7 earthquake.


This was the first exercise where the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing brought together squadrons from the entire wing to practice opening a base together, just as they would during a real-world contingency.


The wing tested the team’s ability to communicate and work cohesively. The 435th Contingency Response Group, the 435th Air and Space Communications Group, and the 4th Air Support Operations Group worked together and opened a functioning base within eight days of receiving their mission.


According to Briceno, the players had 72 hours to plan and prepare. That includes making sure all logistics are sorted out, all pallets are locked down, the right equipment is loaded and all personnel are accounted for.


“All the logistical preparations have to be in place,” Briceno said. “If you’re going to have an aircraft take off, you’re going to need a generator to keep that aircraft powered. They can’t forget the power chords because they don’t know when the next airplane is going to get there. They can’t say ‘Hey Mom, I forgot something.”


The inspection made sure that The 435th AGOW is not allowing any of its many base-opening muscles to atrophy, as Briceno said. Some squadrons are more used to deploying than others, which is one of the things Exercise Lending Hand highlighted for the inspectors.


Staff Sgt. Auguste Archer, 1st Combat Communication Squadron Mission Defense Team noncommissioned officer in charge, helped to open the base.


“It’s always good to get out and setting everything up,” Archer said. “You can do it as much as you want in garrison but it’s never gonna be like getting out here. I haven’t set up a sight like this in a long time so it’s really good to get out and do everything.”


The 435th AGOW also tested its ability to respond to simulated danger and complicating events. Some of the simulated situations they faced were a lightning strike that disabled network equipment, refugees trying to gain entry to the base in search of water and medical attention, and a fuel spill from an overturned vehicle.


The exercise is going well, Briceno said.


“Some of the highlights that we’ve identified are that morale is high, leadership is involved and the briefings are spot on,” Briceno said. “The players are taking it like it’s the real thing. Our wing leadership expects them to do that because the reality is that in a moment’s notice they could get called to do something real-world for the exact same scenario they were just playing.”


Briceno described the players are hard-working Airmen, and the best-of-the-best.


“These units are the unsung heroes,” Briceno said. “When you see on the news that the U.S. has gone into a country and opened up a base, no one sees that before the news got there these people were there, setting up the base.”


Briceno pointed out that a real world magnitude 3.6 earthquake occurred on the last day of the exercise, on the island of Ischia, next to Naples, in which 2,600 civilians were impacted.


“That is a perfect example of why we prepare and exercise our contingency response capabilities,” Briceno said. “Next phone call to support recovery effort of a natural disaster could be for the 435th AGOW. We are postured for success.”