Monday, July 01, 2013

Air mobility units join forces to train in remote environments

by Airman 1st Class Ashlin Federick
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del -- Air mobility teams joined forces to develop essential skills that can be used to extend the global reach of the U.S. Air Force in times of crisis.

The 3rd Airlift Squadron from Dover Air Force Base paired up with the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to conduct semi-prepared runway operations June 17 to 21 at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

SPRO is conducted on any runway which is not paved, such as dirt or crushed stone. SPRO training validates the 621st Contingency Responses Wing's capability to open, secure and operate airfields in austere environments. The more prepared the CR forces and aircrews are to execute the mission, the quicker the user benefits.

"Most of the time a lot of the forward operating bases don't have the capability to pave everything," Staff Sgt. Ryan Thompson, 3rd AS evaluator loadmaster said. "This training makes it so we can get our bigger aircraft and take equipment or personnel closer to the fight."

There are a lot of limitations with SPRO training, such as the dust and distance. In the aircraft all of the limitations change because it has to carry less. Taking off is also an issue because normally the SPROs are conducted on extremely narrow and short runways. The minimum requirement for landing and taking off for a C-17 is 3500 feet. This also happens to be the same distance as the assault strip at Fort A.P. Hill.

"As both a pilot and a landing zone safety officer for this exercise, every Airman involved had to be at the top of their game," said Maj. Dave Gaulin, chief of tactics, training and readiness for the 818 Contingency Response Group. "Safely operating a 400,000-pound Globemaster in the dead of night on a dirt road leaves zero margin for error."

While conditions like this are everyday business for the 'Mobility Masters" of the 621st, the exercise offered a welcome change of pace for the Dover-based Airmen.

"It was a great opportunity to improve our skill sets," said Capt. Dan Morgan, 436th Airlift Wing Safety Office chief of flight safety. "We get to do air refueling and normal tactical arrivals a lot. To actually go into the environment and land on a runway that is so short can add some stress to the job."

Many contingency operations are conducted under the cover of darkness, so proficiency with night vision goggles was a key aspect of the SPRO training.

"The night time training is probably more realistic," said Capt. Zach Walrond, 3rd AS chief of tactics. "You are going into a field that is totally blacked out but they are using covert lighting so they can only see the panels with their goggles on."

In the past, both the CRG and the 3rd AS had to go to California to do the SPRO training. Doing the training at A.P. Hill saves the CRG about $80,000 in costs for traveling fees; it also saves Dover AFB about $500,000 in fuel costs. 

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