Military News

Friday, October 02, 2015

Airmen enable largest CR exercise in AF history, Cerberus Strike

by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
621st Contingency Response Wing

10/2/2015 - COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Contingency response Airmen from the 821st Contingency Response Group recently planned, directed and executed the largest self-contained contingency response exercise in Air Force history from Sept. 8-19.

Approximately 150 Airmen from the 821st CRG at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., subordinate unit of the 621st Contingency Response Wing--with bicoastal units located at Travis AFB and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst AFB, N.J.--conducted Exercise Cerberus Strike, a joint contingency response exercise operating out of five locations in California and Colorado. This unique exercise, whose name was derived from the mascot of the lead squadron, was hosted by the 821st CRG, supported by Air Mobility Liaison Officers, and executed alongside aircrews from three different airframes, demonstrated the spectrum of CR capabilities that make up Air Mobility Command's airlift support mission sets.

One of the core capabilities of the 621st CRW is enhancing and extending the nation's global enroute architecture in order to rapidly respond to crises and contingencies. In order to better serve that function, Airmen from the 621st CRW used Exercise Cerberus Strike to hone their skills and reaffirm their interoperability with joint counterparts.

According to Capt. Michael Slaughter, 821st Contingency Response Squadron assistant director of operations, the CR training was initially constructed to develop unique CR-oriented training objectives that improve downrange effectiveness in preparation for real-world responses. It focused on key functions required by the warfighter such as landing zone assessment, airbase opening for intermediate and forward staging base operations, integrated force protection, and rapid deployment and redeployment of CR and Army forces through strategic and tactical airlift. In fact the training became significantly more substantial, as CR Airmen, AMLOs, aircrew, and Soldiers planned and executed alongside each other.

To accomplish this training, exercise planners in the 821st CRG recruited a large number of Air Force and joint partners. Air Force participants in the exercise included strategic airlift support via C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Galaxy squadrons from the 4th Airlift Squadron from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; 21st AS and 22nd AS, Travis AFB, Calif. Tactical airlift support from C-130J Hercules aircraft was provided by units from the 19th Airlift Wing, Little Rock AFB, Ark., and 317th Airlift Group, Dyess AFB, Texas. U.S. Army participants came from the 10th Special Forces Group and 4th Infantry Division Stryker Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade and 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Carson, Colo.

The initial portion of the exercise called for the 4th ID to utilize C-17 airlift for landing zone infiltration. AMLOs and CR Airmen from the 621st CRW worked with 4th ID and 21st and 4th AS to secure airlift for U.S. Army Stryker combat vehicles and personnel participating in the exercise. This training called for two contingency response teams to open and operate two locations in Southern California.  The final destination for the Strykers was Freedom Forward Landing Strip at Fort Irwin, Calif., which provided the 4th ID the opportunity to execute an actual assault of a landing zone at Ft Irwin's National Training Center and assisted in preparing the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team for combat operations. 

Lt. Col. Chris Fuller, 621st Air Mobility Advisor Group, Army Liaison, and Master Sgt. Jeff Holloway, 821st Contingency Response Squadron chief of standards and evaluation, worked to facilitate efforts between the units.

AMLOs hold a unique position in the Air Force; as rated airlift officers attached to Army units, they provide expertise on the effective use of air mobility assets for the Air Force and sister services.  Communication between services is often a challenge as members from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps typically have differing terminology and coordination procedure requests.  AMLOs are geographically separated from their parent wing at JB MDL and embedded with units from sister services in locations around the world. They provide a critical link in bridging the gap in communication between the Air Force and their host unit. Exercise Cerberus Strike provided real-time opportunities for AMLOs to enhance communication and increase the efficiency of joint service efforts..

"AMLOs expand exercise objectives by bringing joint service units into planning and execution, which ultimately maximizes the effectiveness and realism of the exercise," Fuller said. "AMLOs are the glue between the Army and Air Force."

During the exercise, Fuller, Holloway and their teams assisted with the joint inspection of Stryker vehicles, facilitated movements at the SoCal Logistics Airport in Victorville, Calif., and coordinated landing zones and off-loading capabilities at various locations.

Holloway, one of the primary exercise developers, examined the requirements of Army units as an opportunity to cultivate opportunities for CRW and airlift airmen to engage in real-time training.

"Reaching out to our AMLOs at Fort Carson, we saw the opportunity for a partnership with the 10th Special Forces Group and 4th ID," Holloway said. "The Stryker battalion was tasked with executing operations at National Training Center at Fort Irwin. With the opportunity for some excellent training for all three CR units at Travis, we started looking into the potential of facilitating the air shipment of the Stryker battalion."

From this simple beginning and some vision and support from leadership the exercise grew into a truly robust training event for everyone involved.

After opening and closing the two airfields in California, CR forces forward deployed to Colorado opening three more airfields. There the CRW provided 10 C-130 crews with realistic combat training, high-altitude work and semi-prepared runway operations at one of the most difficult C-130 landing zones in the world, while ensuring airdrop qualification of 70 members from the 10th Special Forces Group.   In all, over 375 personnel from across the military participated.

"In a complex scenario like this, everyone has to think on their feet to overcome unforeseen challenges," said Maj. Eli Persons, 921st Contingency Response Squadron assistant director of operations. "What I was most impressed with was the ingenuity and initiative of our CR Airmen to handle whatever came their way."

In a number of firsts, CR Airmen and airlift crews flying in the exercise conducted a combined exercise debrief. It focused on shared areas for improvement and identified best practices that improve interoperability of CR forces and the airlift community it works with.

"This debrief provided all participants a tangible understanding of the shared lessons learned that improve our performance as a mobility team not just separate CR and airlift forces," Slaughter said.

"The list of accomplishments for this exercise was truly remarkable," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krulick, 821st CRS director of operations.  One critical example provided was that "It was the first time we had the AMLOs fully integrate with CR and joint forces in a training exercise."

According to Lt. Col. Dan Cordes, 821st CRS commander, the development of the unique and targeted training opportunity is perhaps the most important element.

The value and success of this training was readily apparent to all participants as squadrons utilized their own training dollars to integrate into the exercise; and the support and willingness to participate in what started off as a local squadron-level training event was, "truly remarkable," according to Cordes.

"This [exercise] was created from the imagination and creativity of several [of our own] hard-working Airmen with full time responsibilities in their squadron and involved with the daily operations of the units," Cordes said. "The learning, integration, and understanding that came from developing and executing an exercise as complex as this is second to none, and undoubtedly those that participated are more prepared than ever to execute their mission."

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