86th AW/CP demonstrates vigilance, expertise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tryphena Mayhugh
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When Airmen think of command post, what may come to mind for many of them is the giant voice that can sometimes be heard over a loud speaker at a base. For the 86th Airlift Wing Command Post at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the job consists of much more.

"We're the nerve center of the base," said Staff Sgt. Erica Johnson, 86th AW/CP senior emergency actions controller. "We help move the mission behind the scenes in ways that you wouldn't realize or think about, and you shouldn't have to because we're there. You can sleep well at night; we're here for you, the wing and everybody else."

The 86th AW/CP is the largest in U.S Air Forces in Europe, supporting six bases, five wings, 12 groups, 57 squadrons and 39 geographically separated units. 

"We're there 24/7, 365," said Johnson. "We are thinking about every individual of the 57,000 in our purview. We take that very seriously, working 12 hour shifts, day and night. It's a crazy schedule, but we're there because it means something. We are the eyes and ears for this base, for the entire Kaiserslautern Military Community."

To name a few, command post is in charge of Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and USAFE action messages, emergency and crisis notification, coordination and disaster response, mission management, monitoring and coordination for local and transient aircraft and monitoring the locations of key personnel and distinguished visitors.

Having overseen thousands of missions, sorties and flying hours, the command post works around the clock every day to keep Ramstein safe.

"Let's say we're being attacked, we're going to tell you within seconds," said Master Sgt. Holly Hotchkiss, 86th AW/CP superintendent. "The important stuff, that's how you're going to find out about it. We're going to let you know."

The day to day operations for command post can vary from one to the next, making it necessary for all personnel to stay sharp.

"It's not always a cookie-cutter situation," said Johnson. "That's where you have controller judgment and expertise. There are a lot of eyes and ears out there and we need to be the focal point and glue that holds this base together. Whatever the situation might be, we need to be able to respond and be the critical link in the chain."

Command post has protocols in place for a multitude of scenarios, and the Airmen working there must meet monthly certification requirements to ensure that should a situation arise, they are ready to go.

"We can run several quick reaction checklists at any given time for anything from an active shooter event to a mission change, cancelation, death or whatever scenario you can think of," said Johnson. "Our job is to react to those, follow our checklist items, be the voice of the commander, think outside of the box and think on our toes. You have to be on at all times."

The nature of some of the jobs that fall under command post can possibly take a toll on the Airmen who work there.

"I feel mostly for the Airmen that are coming in because it's a huge shock," said Johnson. "For the more seasoned and senior NCOs, it just rolls off. You have to be able to shut it off, but then at the same time be able to pull it back and reengage with how these Airmen are feeling."

Despite the pressure, some Airmen are thankful to be working in this career field.

"I'm so happy I became command post," said Hotchkiss, who has been working in it for 18 years. "I wouldn't want to do anything else. It's terrifying and sad at times, but it's also really exciting. My favorite part is the Air Medical humanitarian side, bringing back wounded warriors or those that were unfortunately killed downrange. Getting them back to their families and getting those wounded back to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, to me that's most important."

The 86th AW/CP strives behind the scenes to remain vigilant and resilient in order to protect Ramstein Airmen, their families and the KMC.