CRW Airmen establish airfield, link allies during Exercise Ultimate Reach

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hannen
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing
Thirty-five Airmen from across the 621st Contingency Response Wing deployed to Zaragoza, Spain in support of Exercise Ultimate Reach from Nov. 2-8.

The Airmen enabled seven C-17 Globemaster IIIs to drop approximately 600 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division as part of the joint and coalition exercise that drew participants from not only the U.S. Army but also C-17 crews from Joint Base Charleston, S.C.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

The multi-national live-fly exercise designed to showcase the ability of 18th  Air Force to plan and conduct strategic airdrop missions drew participants from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

More than 5,000 U.S. service members participated in Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercise conducted in the last 20 years that served as an annual NATO Response Force certification exercise.

"We were there to make sure the aircrews and paratroopers could integrate into the exercise without any issues," said Maj. Ryan Fandell, 921st Contingency Response Squadron contingency response element commander from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "We are a mobile airfield with capabilities to control the air traffic, command and control, aircraft maintenance and passenger movement."

Thirty-one of the 621st CRW's Airmen participating deployed from the 921st Contingency Response Squadron, two were from the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron and the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron provided a Spanish speaking translator from Travis AFB.

"Working with multiple nations and services always presents a challenge to get everyone to talk on the same page," Fandell said. "But our Airmen did a fantastic job of working through those challenges and making the exercise a success for not only the U.S. Air Force, but all the units and nations that participated."

One of the keys to success was providing members who could literally speak the language of their host nation. Tech. Sgt. Moises Chavez-Zavala, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron Spanish interpreter, from Travis AFB proved to be the critical link between Airmen and their Spanish counterparts.

"Prior to my arrival I spent a lot of time studying and practicing various forms of speech that is native to Spain," Chavez-Zavala said. "That preparation let me accurately communicate what each participant was saying. I am aircraft maintenance by trade, and as a former sheet metal technician, my prior job was handy because I was able to understand the maintenance jargon being used by each country's participants."

This was Chavez-Zavala's first time participating in an exercise of this type, and he looks forward to more opportunities to use his skills he said.

"Normally my operations consist of translating in a classroom where material is being taught to the partner nations," he said. "If given the opportunity I would do this again in a heartbeat. I think it is important role that we play and it's very effective to bridge that communication and see the mission. It is very rewarding to see that piece of the puzzle where our contributions play a key role in executing such a large exercise."

Beyond Spanish speaking expertise, the 621st CRW also provided a key advising asset in the form of an Air Mobility Liaison Officer, Air Force Capt. Frank Culick, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.

As an AMLO, Culick provided a unique strategic and tactical capability by facilitating communication between the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and Spanish assets.

Before the exercise, Culick assisted the 82nd in gaining a strategic capability at Fort Bragg's Joint Operations Control Center (JOCC) by coordinating with the 618th Air Operations Center (TACC) for real-time tracking of aircraft as they flew across the ocean to the drop zone. Arriving in Spain, Culick provided coordination with the Spanish Air Boss on communication plans for the mission planning cell (MPC), deconflicted weather limitations to further facilitate airdrop operations, and while on the drop zone (DZ) in Zaragoza, had eyes on the DZ and run-in headings to confirm that no obstacles had been constructed since the published DZ survey. As only specific personnel are authorized to control a large formation such as the seven aircraft employed during the exercise's large-formation paratrooper drop, Culick served as the secondary DZ controller.

"The Army and Air Force planners have limited face-to-face contact prior to final stage of an exercise, so knowing each of their paradigms is an invaluable asset to understanding and communicating the needs of both," Culick said. "On a tactical level, as an AMLO I provide that insurance for clearing large aircraft formations over a DZ in the event STS is unable to support."

Culick said exercises like Ultimate Reach are important because it exemplifies the strategic and tactical expertise that the AMLO provides to any operation.

"By being embedded with the Army, we are able to address mobility issues at a lower level thus increasing the efficiency of an operation," Culick said. "Simply, we are able to address a very wide spectrum of mobility questions that gets the job done."

The 621st Contingency Response Wing is highly-specialized in training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain, and coordinate air mobility operations. With bicoastal units at both Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the 621st consists of approximately 1500 Airmen in three groups, eleven squadrons and more than 20 geographically separated operating locations aligned with major Army and Marine Corps combat units. The wing maintains a ready corps of light, lean and agile mobility support forces able to respond as directed by the 18th Air Force in order to meet Combatant Command contingency requirements.

The 621st CRW accomplishes its mission through four distinct and integrated lines of effort--Theater Command and Control executed by its Air Mobility Operations Squadrons, Building Partner Capacity through engagements performed by the Mobility Air Advisors, Providing Mobility Expertise directly at the point of need with embedded Air Mobility Liaisons, and Contingency Response Forces who open, operate and close airfields for mobility operations around the world.