Air Force Wing Ready for Disaster Response Worldwide 'Anytime, Anywhere'

Staff Sgt. Angelo Morino, 621st Contingency Response Wing, transports food and provisions for Hurricane victims, October 9th, 2016, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Robert Waggoner)
Staff Sgt. Angelo Morino, 621st Contingency Response Wing, transports food and provisions for Hurricane victims, October 9th, 2016, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Robert Waggoner)

The Air Force's 621st Contingency Response Wing has the 24-7 emergency mission to set up airfields in disaster response or against emerging threats worldwide, but sometimes it takes the Navy to get them there.

The "anytime, anywhere" capabilities of the 621st were called into play in the U.S. response to Hurricane Dorian's devastation of the Bahamas beginning Sept. 1, said Air Force Col. Douglas Jackson, who took command of the 621st in May.

Teams from the 621st had deployed to Florida, but needed Navy rotary-wing aircraft to get to the islands, Jackson said in a phone interview Tuesday from the 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

The 11-member airfield assessment team found that the airfields in the Bahamas "initially were so bad that they weren't capable of receiving any type of fixed-wing aircraft," he said.

Related: Read all about the 2019 Air, Space & Cyber conference

"We did that airfield assessment team operation for about 10 days," with the team intermittently bedding down aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan, he said.

"That team really was the boots on the ground for Department of Defense in support of" U.S. Northern Command's Dorian response effort "and what ultimately became [the U.S. Agency for International Development] response in the Bahamas," Jackson said.

The Bahamas response was typical for the 621st's unique mission profile. The Wing has its headquarters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, which also commands the 821st Contingency Response Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California.

"The nature of our organization is to be constantly on alert," Jackson said. "So right now, for example, we have 120 airmen at McGuire and Travis who are tethered somewhat to their phones and electronic devices and, on very short notice … within 12 hours, our folks can depart anywhere around the world."

The short-notice alerts for the 1,400 total personnel in the 621st are possible because, unlike traditional units, "we don't have an in-garrison mission beyond training and readiness," Jackson said.

"So, for instance, our security forces aren't manning the gate," he added. "They are training, and they are integrated with a cross-functional team, and they are ready in the event they are needed to go expeditionary and help us defend a base in a deployed or uncertain environment.

"The same is true of our maintainers," Jackson said. "The maintainers that are part of our wing do not work the flight line on a day-to day basis, but they train on their own aircraft and become part of a multi-functional team that is ready to deploy on very short notice.

All of that is orchestrated through Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command.

"We're on alert and, if in fact we're alerted, then Air Mobility Command and TRANSCOM determine what's the suitable airlift necessary," he said. "Our responsibility is to have people and equipment that are ready, airworthy, and ready to depart rapidly."

In addition to disaster response in the U.S., 621st units have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other areas worldwide to set up or restore airfields where U.S. forces have an immediate need for a landing field for fixed-wing aircraft, Jackson said.

Earlier this summer, when tensions with Iran began building, teams from the 621st were sent to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to set up an airfield in Saudi Arabia for potential use, he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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