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May 31, 2006—The Air Force is making its presence felt around the world—from Louisiana to Pakistan—by sending in quick reaction forces that rapidly survey, assess, establish, and operate air bases in crisis situations. Many airmen in USAF’s eight new Contingency Response Groups have deployed at home and abroad even before the CRGs are fully formed and fully operational.

One CRG airman—Lt. Col. Ken D’Alfonso—was at the Pentagon on May 23, 2006, and talked with Air Force Magazine Online about the concept and the reality.

Initially conceived in 1999 within US Air Forces in Europe, the CRG concept received a high-level boost following Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The lessons learned from OEF solidified creation of eight CRGs as small teams of multidisciplinary airmen that could go in to any location on short notice and quickly open a base and prepare it for 24-hour air operations. The CRG then would turn over operations to follow-on air expeditionary forces.

Six of USAF’s eight CRGs reside within Air Mobility Command (split between the 615th Contingency Response Wing at Travis AFB, Calif., and the 621st CRW at McGuire AFB, N.J.). One has been established within Pacific Air Forces (36th CRG at Andersen AFB, Guam), and one within US Air Forces in Europe (86th CRG at Ramstein AB, Germany). Each CRG is authorized 113 airmen.

AMC’s two groups comprise a Global Mobility Squadron and a Global Mobility Readiness Squadron. The GMS is responsible for quick-turn aircraft maintenance, passenger and cargo movement, and command and control of personnel and aircraft. The GMRS encompasses intelligence, force protection, airfield management, air traffic control, weather, finance, and airfield systems maintenance assets.

Since March 2005, CRGs have participated in the multinational Bright Star exercise in Egypt and assisted in the shutdown of USAF operations at Rhein-Main AB, Germany. CRG airmen also led the Air Force response to Hurricane Katrina, helping to reopen the devastated New Orleans International Airport to enable a massive airlift and aeromedical evacuation operation.

Within seven days of their return from Katrina duty, some CRG members would be half a world away, aiding Pakistan relief efforts after the October 2005 earthquake. D’Alfonso, commander of the 818th GMRS, was part of the Pakistan-bound CRG, which was quickly cobbled together from various units of the 621st CRW.

D’Alfonso said that the main challenge for the unit, which had its primary operating location at Chaklala, Pakistan, was disbursing supplies throughout a mountainous region with little working infrastructure. Cargo often arrived loose with no pallets and no way for the CRG to efficiently unload aircraft. The CRG located vehicles and improvised methods to keep supplies moving to the needy, rather than allowing a “warehouse factor” to bring the operation to a halt, said D’Alfonso.

One such improvisation, detailed in a mission report, was the method devised to unload a mobile hospital bus from a Russian-built Iranian IL-76 that had no drive-on, drive-off ramp like American airlifters. Two CRG aerial porters—MSgt. Perry O’Brien and TSgt. Craig Moir—took only a few minutes to decide to drive the bus onto one of the CRG’s Halvorsen loaders. The two airmen prepared stacks of pallets and had an Iranian driver inch the bus forward, so the front wheels rested upon the pallets. They then used two forklifts to suspend the rear wheels while they drove the Halvorsen out from beneath the bus. Using the forklifts to lower the rear wheels to the ground, they repeated the process with the front wheels—success, all four wheels on the ground. 

The Air Force CRGs are unique in that each group’s airmen work and train together, no matter what their specialty. D’Alfonso noted that there are not many organizations “where the vehicle mechanics sit next to the intelligence guy.” All of the members of the group are proficient in their specialty, but everyone also can drive a forklift.

That capability—and attitude—helped the CRG get the job done in Pakistan. The unit had to limit its size to just 45 airmen, about 40 percent of a full CRG complement, because Pakistan initially imposed a ceiling on the number of US military personnel it would accept.

At the end of the earthquake relief operation on Dec. 15, 2006, the CRG had unloaded 670 aircraft carrying some 15 million pounds of supplies. D’Alfonso called it a huge success and a key factor in turning around Pakistani perceptions of Americans.

When the CRGs are at their home stations, they are training—constantly. “A lot of our internal focus has been looking at how we get out the door faster, pack faster, and become more efficient,” said D’Alfonso. Teams drill at McGuire, work with the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C., on airfield seizure exercises, and also train at the Joint Readiness Center at Ft. Polk, La., among other venues around the country.

The Air Mobility Command CRGs are each currently still building toward a full complement of 113 rapid response specialists, but they are slated to make initial operational capability next spring, stated D’Alfonso.

He added, “As far as at the tactical level, we are getting better. … We are becoming more skilled in all levels.”