By 1st Lt. Brooke Brzozowske
621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
Moonlight covers the camp, illuminating a rainbow of reflective belts. In the wee hours of the morning, the smell of coffee, extra sugar, damp grass and the mighty roar of C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster IIIs pair alongside the steady beep of a 10K forklift. To this scene, Airmen and Soldiers set up camp, opening an airbase at a simulated deployed environment during a Joint Operational Access Exercise, Sept. 7 – 13 at Mackall Army Airfield near Pinehurst, N.C.
“We’ve got another bird coming in, four mikes away, and a two-ship five mikes later,” said Maj. Ron Nolte, Contingency Response Element commander, over his radio as he walks out of the joint operations center tent. “It’s going to be a busy night.”
During the exercise, more than 90 Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Wing and 50 Soldiers from the 690th Rapid Port Opening Element, Fort Eustis, Va., arrived at the simulated intermediate staging base in “Arubiq” to establish a Joint Task Force – Port Opening.
“The JTF-PO force is ready to deploy within 12 hours of notification and when it arrives, rapidly opens a bare base operation to ‘bridge the gap’ for follow-on forces,” said Col. David Kuenzli, 817th Contingency Response Group and JTF-PO commander. “Essentially, our team of Airmen and Soldiers turn on the lights.”
The purpose of JOAX is to assess and certify the combat readiness of leadership, planning staff, air crews and combat forces to accomplish their employment and sustainment mission in an expeditionary setting.
“JOAX is like a symphony of Mobility Air Forces – carefully orchestrated with our Army brethren and their ground forces,” said Maj. Dan Cook, JOAX Air Mobility Division chief and 21st Air Mobility Operations Squadron commander. “This is a critical, joint venture between all moving parts of this exercise, and it’s been a pleasure to help conduct the air piece of this operation.”
The 621st CRW’s “Devil Raiders” partnered with their Army counterparts, the 690th Rapid Port Opening Element “Patriots” to provide the air and ground element of mobility operations, assuring cargo moves off the airfield and transported to forward locations for distribution. The RPOE is a subordinate unit under the 597th Transportation Brigade, which is part of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, or SDDC.
SDDC is a unique Army command that delivers world-class, origin-to-destination distribution solutions. Whenever and wherever Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are deployed, SDDC is involved in planning and executing the surface delivery of their equipment and supplies.
“It doesn’t matter what uniform we are wearing, each of the guys out here know what we’re here to do – we all mobilize the fight and provide relief to those who need it most,” said Staff Sgt. Greg Jones, 621st CRW aerial porter. “This exercise is a great way to practice our processes and to highlight how we operate in complex environments.”
The partnership enhanced joint relationships and helped sharpen skills in airfield operations, aircraft on- and off-load, airbase defense, and establishing a distribution node for cargo and supplies.
“It takes a sharp team to work this well together in a joint environment, and our team worked 13 aircraft loading, off-loading and pushed forward more than 99 tons of passengers and cargo,” said Maj. Armando Kuppinger, JTF-PO Surface Element leader and 690th RPOE commander. “Bottom line, our guys showed up ready to execute the mission. This is an incredible capability – and one that only our fine nation possesses.”