RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
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
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
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
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
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,
“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.”