Wing exercises Initial Response Hub
By Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
/ Published November 16, 2012
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- More than 30 Kentucky Air Guardsmen and two C-130 aircraft from the 123rd Airlift Wing deployed May 14 to Fort Campbell, Ky, during a no-notice response to a notional 7.6-magnitude earthquake outside St. Louis.
Within three hours of a telephone recall initiated by Col. Warren Hurst, commander of the wing's Initial Response Hub, disaster-response personnel from the special tactics squadron, contingency response group, medical group, security forces, maintenance and public affairs were airborne to Western Kentucky.
Their purpose was to determine if Fort Campbell's airfield could support large-scale relief operations despite earthquake damage, report the findings to a broad range of federal agencies, and open the airfield for operations so supplies could be flown in and the wounded could be flown out.
The destination and mission both came as a surprise to the Kentucky Air Guardsmen, who had been expecting to deploy to Texas in response to a simulated hurricane, according to Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing.
"We threw the team a curve ball," he said. "Initially our Airmen were planning and preparing for a notional hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, as hurricane season is coming.
"At the last minute, we changed the entire mission and injected a New Madrid earthquake-response exercise, requiring the crews to create new flight plans and prepare for a completely different scenario. This is how real life and real disasters work."
Once at Fort Campbell, the Airmen assessed runways for earthquake damage, evaluated air traffic routes, prepared for emergency evacuations, and established voice, data and video communications with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Transportation Command, the National Guard Bureau and other government agencies, Hurst said.
Accompanying the Kentucky Air Guard were eight members of the civilian media, including Sean Moody from WKYT-TV in Lexington.
"It was an eye-opening experience," Moody said. "I was amazed at how fast the 123rd packed up and flew out of Louisville, landed in Campbell and so quickly went to work on the airfield."
The 123rd Airlift Wing Initial Response Hub is a unique air asset that draws on lessons learned during real-world relief missions in Haiti, Japan and Pakistan, and in the United States following Hurricane Katrina, Nelson said.
For example, it is the only team in the country in which all the assets needed to open an airfield are housed in one location with the aircraft required to deploy them. Such a centralized approach minimizes response time and maximizes operational capability.
"Only in Louisville have we put these capabilities together along with the C-130s to provide a rapid response to a disaster in our country," Nelson said.
"We stand ready to do this mission when our nation needs us. We have proven we can do this mission."