Contingency response group exercises crisis skills
By Army Col. Phil Miller, State Public Affairs Officer
/ Published September 06, 2008
SALINAS, Calif. -- More than 80 members of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group deployed here July 11-18 for Exercise Hydra '08, as the US Air Force showcased its emergency airlift capabilities in the only major contingency response exercise to be held on the West Coast this year.
Focused on humanitarian relief operations following a simulated magnitude 8.2 earthquake in the mythical country of "Califon," Hydra involved more than 1,000 Airmen, Soldiers and Marines and 20 aircraft operating out of five airfields throughout Central California -- Salinas Municipal Airport, Travis Air Force Base, Schoonover Field in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles Municipal Airport and Castle Field in Merced.
In Salinas, 116 personnel from the Louisville-based 123rd CRG and the Travis-based 572nd CRG lived in a "tent city" erected at the airport where they provided air and ground support for the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft participating in the exercise.
The Airmen trained in communications, command and control, aircraft maintenance, civil engineering, meteorological support, force protection security and aerial port operations. Additionally, two Kentucky C-130s and four aircrews provided airlift for the CRG deployment and also supported several of the exercise's humanitarian relief scenarios.
While the quake and "Califon" were fictional, and the operations were part of a drill, there was nothing artificial about the training exercise for members of the 123rd CRG, due in large part to their experience in real disasters and first-hand knowledge of the importance of staying ready.
"It is important to stay current," said Master Sgt. Larry Burba as he worked with a team of Airmen building the tent city. "This training helps us know what to do in case of an emergency, which could potentially save lives."
That sentiment was echoed by the unit's commander, Col. Warren Hurst, a veteran of combat and relief operations from Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Iraq to disasters nearer to home such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Colonel Hurst said each of Hydra '08's scenarios was designed to yield valuable lessons.
"Katrina was a real learning experience," he said. "It created such a widespread area of disaster. We found out we needed better communication (with local and other military authorities). There was a lot of duplication of effort. Part of this exercise is to make us work better together."
Colonel Hurst was also enthusiastic about the performance of the Kentucky Airmen in tackling the training challenges of Hydra '08. He credited their individual versatility, diverse civilian employment backgrounds and the unit's inherent camaraderie as major contributing factors in accomplishing all assigned missions.
"There's a real sense of esprit de corps," Colonel Hurst said. "We've got airline pilots, police officers, electricians, general contractors, an attorney and corporate executives. These folks don't ask for anything. They just do their jobs. There's nothing else like it.
"Besides," he said, "humanitarian relief is always more rewarding than any other mission."