123rd Contingency Response Group establishes aerial port during California exercise

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. James Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The United States is often referred to as the world's 911 force, and the men and women who respond to that call are some of the most dedicated members of the U.S. military. A small cadre of servicemembers from the Kentucky Air National Guard and U.S. Army had the opportunity to demonstrate that dedication during Operation Lumberjack, which took place here March 6-11.

The Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group, in conjunction with the U.S. Army's 688th Rapid Port Opening Element and the Defense Logistics Agency, established an aerial port of debarkation as part of Joint Task Force-Port Opening Sangala. 

Operation Lumberjack was a simulated insertion into a friendly nation being destabilized by outside militant forces. The 123rd CRG, 688th RPOE and DLA came together to establish the APOD, begin air and ground transportation, and stand up warehousing and distribution capability in order to move equipment and supplies to forward positions within the fictional country of Sangala, said U.S. Air Force Col. David Mounkes, a Kentucky Air National Guardsman and commander of Joint Task Force-Port Opening-Sangala.

The exercise solidified the working relationships between multiple branches of the military in a joint environment and gave all the servicemembers practical experience executing their specific functions within the JTF-PO as well as cross-functional jobs, Mounkes said. 

Cross-functional training is important because the JTF-PO has to accomplish large-scale tasks quickly and efficiently. Such tasks require an all-hands effort, and everyone within the JTF-PO participates.    

"The teamwork and effort from all players was phenomenal," said Mounkes, who also is commander of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group. "The build-up, communication and operations were all seamless, which is a testament to the professionalism of the Airmen, Soldiers and civilians who were part of this exercise."

The exercise began with the arrival of the Joint Assessment Team. The JAT has the responsibility of determining if the airfield is capable of supporting multiple airlifts from large transport aircraft like the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.

"Time is what we're up against when we first arrive," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bruce Bancroft, JTF-PO operations officer and a member of the 123rd CRG. "In an environment where innocent people are relying on you for help, the mission has to be done quickly and correctly. There is no room for error."

Once the initial assessment is complete and the airfield is approved, the JAT gives the green light for the rest of the JTF-PO elements to arrive. Within 24 hours of that approval, the APOD is functioning and delivering necessary supplies to forward positions.

Ground operations for Lumberjack were conducted by the 688th RPOE, a team of U.S. Army Soldiers that specializes in ground transportation and convoy operations.

"I am proud of the way our guys executed the mission, and with the teamwork between the Army, Air Force and the DLA," said U.S. Army Capt. Michael Siddall, commander of the 688th RPOE. "Our Soldiers and Airmen make moving more than a million tons of cargo look easy, and trust me, it is not easy."

The APOD operates 24 hours, every day. Peering into the joint operations center during shift change provides a detailed perspective on how the APOD operates as successfully as it does.

"This may be an exercise to people looking in, but to us it is as real as it gets," said U.S. Air Force Capt. James Embry, JTF-PO airfield operations officer and a member of the 123rd CRG. "Everyone takes the mission, as well as their specific job, very seriously, and we communicate and execute just like we were in a real-world environment."

Shift change at the JOC is standing room only. Every element of the APOD is represented, and communication is forward, forthright and specific.

"There is a protocol, and that protocol is, 'If it needs to be said, say it,'" Mounkes noted. "Communication is paramount -- that cannot be expressed enough -- and our troops are the subject matter experts."

JTF-PO Sangala moved over 1.4 million pounds of cargo through 40 airlifts to forward positions, amounting to more than 1,000 miles of ground transportation.

Exercises like Operation Lumberjack not only give servicemembers the experience of operating in a real-world environment, they also strengthen the idea of a "purple" military, Mounkes said.

"This kind of training allows all the branches of the military to operate in a joint environment without any lapse in communication or differences in command and control."