ALPENA, Mich. --
More than 130 members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Contingency Response Group joined the U.S. Army’s 690th Rapid Port Opening Element to participate in Operation Huron Thunder, a U.S. Transportation Command exercise held at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Alpena, Michigan in July.
The exercise was designed to test the rapid assessment and airfield opening capabilities of contingency forces and establish a Joint Task Force-Port Opening — a complete logistics hub and surface distribution network, said Col. Bruce Bancroft, commander of the 123rd CRG. Airmen were responsible for establishing an aerial port of debarkation, which receives and stages cargo arriving by airlift. The Soldiers simultaneously established a ground transportation network, shuttling cargo away from the airfield to a forward node
Although the APOD and the forward node are set up separately, interoperability is key to mission success, Bancroft said. In-Transit Visibility systems and joint communications are a crucial mission set between the geographically separated areas.
"The importance of interoperability with the Army cannot be overstated,” Bancroft said. “Our success on the airfield is directly tied to the RPOE’s ability to keep cargo flowing to the forward node, and this exercise demonstrates the absolute reliance we have on each other to make the mission happen.”
One thing the Kentucky Air Guard brought to the exercise was extensive experience operating JTF-POs in the past, Bancroft added. This experience allowed the Airmen and Soldiers to quickly streamline operations and share best practices.
For example, Soldiers from the 690th RPOE began the mission by carrying two radios — one to talk with the forward node and the other to talk with commanders at the APOD. This inefficient system was soon corrected by Master Sgt. Kyle Goins, a communications specialist with the 123rd, who was able to reconfigure the radios so only one was needed.
This on-the-job training was very valuable for Staff Sgt. Rhonda McQuay, a signal NCO from the 690th RPOE, based at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.
“I know this was a learning experience, and I can apply what I learned here to future operations,” said McQuay, a native of Madisonville, Kentucky.
The 123rd CRG’s experience with JTF-POs was readily apparent to Maj. Brett Dunning, commander of the 690th RPOE
“You can tell the 123rd CRG members have been working together for a long time, and they’re helping to instruct my less-experienced soldiers,” Dunning said. “An example of this is downloading cargo directly to flat-rack trucks so they don’t have to handle the cargo twice as it transfers to the forward node.”
“We’ve been involved in the JTF-PO mission for 10 years and have been recognized for multiple best practices,” Bancroft noted. “The opportunity to work with the 690th has been invaluable, and the information exchange was superb.”
The Kentucky unit is the only contingency response group in the Air National Guard. It was recently honored as Air Mobility Command’s 2017 Contingency Response Unit of the Year.