123rd Contingency Response Group completes successful earthquake-response exercise

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. James W. Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Natural disasters are an unavoidable fact of life, but that doesn't mean the nation can't be prepared for them. Architects can design more resilient buildings and strengthen existing ones, disaster-management officials can pre-stage recovery equipment and supplies, and the men and women who respond can hone their training to ensure rapid assistance.

The Airmen of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group are those men and women, and they successfully demonstrated their disaster-response capabilities here June 16-19 during a simulated-earthquake exercise called CAPSTONE '14. The exercise tested the 123rd CRG's response to a major earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone that caused massive damage across an eight-state region from Arkansas to Ohio.

The 123rd CRG, working in partnership with the U.S. Army's 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, established a Joint Task Force-Port Opening within hours of deploying to Fort Campbell's airfield. The task force was charged with receiving and processing large quantities of food, water, medicine and other relief supplies arriving by airlift. The supplies were then trucked to a staging point for further distribution into affected areas.

The reception and off-loading of aircraft was handled by the Kentucky Air Guardsmen, while the Soldiers were responsible for delivering the supplies to their final destination, explained Army Capt. Jacob Elders, executive officer of the 688th RPOE.

The flight line operated like a well-orchestrated dance, with C-130 Hercules aircraft landing, offloading their cargo to multiple 10,000-pound forklifts and taking off again in quick succession, all under the control of the CRG. Meanwhile, heavy vehicles from the 688th RPOE would transport the supplies to a staging area called the forward node, known here only as "The Node."

If one were to peer into the Joint Operations Center, it wouldn't have been difficult to understand how seriously each service member took the mission. Everyone was busy continuously, acting with a sense of urgency to ensure the steady flow of relief to people in need.

Morning meetings functioned as round tables where every element had the opportunity to outline its objectives, expectations, needs and successes. The meetings took less than 15 minutes despite the fact that input was being sought from more than 30 people -- a testament to knowing the importance of the mission, the need to be quick and efficient, but also to ensure that necessary information was shared, according to Lt. Col. Bruce Bancroft, Joint Assessment Team chief.

"When you are trying to get relief supplies to hundreds of thousands of people, there is no time for extra words," Bancroft said. "The mission comes first, and it has to be accomplished quickly, efficiently and in a manner that ensures no one waits longer for us than is absolutely necessary."

Army Capt. Gary "Luke" Wheeler, commander of the 688th RPOE, was pleased with the performance of the joint Army-Air Guard team, saying the exercise "turned out very well."

"We had some great planning going into the exercise and good communications," he added. "Everything we needed, we got support for on the RPOE side. It was definitely a well-executed mission by everybody."

The Kentucky Air Guard's Col. Mark Heiniger agreed with Wheeler's assessment, noting that the teamwork displayed by the Airmen and Soldiers was "phenomenal."

"We're very proud of our Airmen and Soldiers," said Heiniger, commander of both the 123rd CRG and the JTF-PO. "Their enthusiasm for the mission and willingness to give it everything they had was the key to our mission success."

Exercises like CAPSTONE '14 are not only designed to test the capabilities of military personnel, Heiniger added. They also enhance working relationships with multiple cooperating civilian agencies.

"We incorporated our exercise with another event called CUSEC, which is short for Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium," he said. "So, we got as much bang for the buck out of this exercise as we could. This was a team-building exercise for government agencies, state agencies, our CRG and our RPOE."