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123rd CRG leads nation with formal training

FORT DIX, N.J. -- Airmen assigned to the first-ever Contingency Response Group in the Air National Guard -- the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd CRG -- have completed 22 days of formal training at the Air Force Expeditionary Center's Mobility Operations School here. 

Fifty-six Airmen from the 115-person 123rd Contingency Response Group attended a comprehensive, four-module course covering all the phases of CRG operations, including subjects like air base assessment, initial airfield operations, force protection and Alaskan shelter construction. 

The 22-day stay included 10 days in the Advanced Contingency Skills Training Course, taught by the Center's Expeditionary Operations School, learning convoy operations, military operations in urban terrain, combat patrolling and tactics, and related subjects. 

"The training they received is designed to provide newly-assigned Airmen to contingency response wings, groups and airlift control flights with a firm understanding of the 'contingency response' mission," said Lt. Col. Richard Elkins, the course director. 

"The course prepares them for rapid deployment and equips them with the basic expeditionary skills needed to function across the full spectrum of military operations and in a wide variety of bed down and operating environments," he said. 

Capt. Ash Groves, a 123rd CRG maintenance officer, said the course gave him the exposure he needed to learn the "many facets of expeditionary operations." 

"Many of the skills learned will take time for us to become proficient at, however, with the initial ground work accomplished, we can continue to build on our capability (as a unit)," Captain Groves said. 

The directive to form the 123rd CRG came just over one year ago, on Nov. 28, 2006, in Louisville. The unit formally activates on April 1, 2008, and Airmen assigned to the 123rd CRG say the training offered here has definitely helped build on the knowledge of the mission they are tasked to do. 

"We are expected to be self-sufficient when we hit the ground and capable of operating in nearly any environment," said Capt. Gregory Shanding, a 123rd CRG civil engineer officer. "In the training, I learned a lot about what the other CRG functions will focus on as we work together accomplish our mission. I also received an excellent 'big picture' perspective on how the CRG fits into how the Air Force fights." 

"We have to be able to go anywhere in the world in a matter of hours," said Tech. Sgt. Mike Skeens, an air transportation craftsman for the 123rd CRG. "Most Airmen have days, weeks or even months to do the same. The training reiterated the fact that you have to be prepared at all times for contingencies anywhere, anytime." 

Senior Airman Ryan McNary, a 123rd CRG load planner, agreed. 

"We could hear about our deployments just days before we have to leave," he said. "We have to be ready at a moment's notice and always be current on our training." 

Staff Sgt. Tyler Marks, also a 123rd CRG load planner, compared the type of effort it takes for a CRG to deploy with the normal process. 

"Normally when Airmen deploy, they pack bags with gear and clothing to perform a duty at a down-range base," Sergeant Marks said. "With a CRG, they pack an entire unit, load it on to aircraft and go open a base that is nothing more than a deserted airstrip when they arrive. For us to be able to do this, training is everything." 

Lt. Col. Warren Hurst, 123rd CRG commander, said the ultimate goal is for his CRG to be among the best, and the center's training will help accomplish that goal. 

"Kentucky has selected our most experienced and motivated people for our CRG," Colonel Hurst said. "We have a unique opportunity to establish a corporate culture that sets a high standard of excellence. The Expeditionary Center provided an outstanding and standardized starting point for us to do just that."