Kentucky Air Guard and U.S. Army establish crucial cargo hub for earthquake response

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt James Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
More than 100 members of the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group and the U.S. Army's 688th Rapid Port Opening Element deployed here June 16-19 for an exercise that will test their ability to respond to a major earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

The exercise, called Capstone '14, requires the troops to set up and operate a Joint Task Force-Port Opening, a self-contained air cargo distribution center that delivers crucial relief supplies during disasters and contingencies, according to Col. Mark Heiniger, JTF-PO commander.

The two units will work together this week to run the JTF-PO, which combines an Air Force Contingency Response Group with an Army Transportation Company to form an Aerial Port of Debarkation. The CRG ensures the seamless flow of relief supplies by air, while the transportation company facilitates their final distribution over land.

The mission is not a new one for Kentucky's 123rd Contingency Response Group. The unit stands ready to respond to any contingency or natural disaster, Heiniger said, initially deploying an 11-person Joint Assessment Team to evaluate airfield infrastructure in the affected area and determine if it can support large-scale relief operations.

This week's exercise began June 16, with the JAT landing here and providing a "go-no go" report to U.S. Transportation Command within four hours of arrival. In that time, they evaluated the runway's integrity for airlift operations and the movement capability of ground vehicles that will distribute relief supplies brought in by cargo aircraft. They also established a secure communications channel for operations.

"The JAT has an important mission that has to be carried out quickly by experts," Heiniger said. "Decisions have to be made, and they have to be right for the JTF-PO to be successful."

Upon site approval, the JAT began accepting the remaining Airmen and Soldiers, along with all the equipment necessary to execute the mission, from tents and electric generators to forklifts and communications gear.

One of the key objectives of the exercise is perfecting seamless operations between multiple states, multiple state and federal agencies, and multiple military units. A common theme here is "purple," which signifies the merger of green (U.S. Army) and blue (U.S. Air Force) forces toward the accomplishment of one mission.

"The interoperability, especially stateside for the RPOE mission and the CRG, is critical," said U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Elders, executive officer for the 688th RPOE. "Not every service brings everything to the fight, but when you link the two together, you have a full mission.

Capstone '14 is part of a broader effort to ensure the region has an effective response to a major earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The zone spans eight states and, according to seismologists, operates on a 200-year cycle for magnitude 6.0 and greater earthquakes. The last earthquake of that magnitude was recorded in 1811.

"To really put it in perspective, a major earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone is likely to cause more damage than Hurricane Katrina," noted Lt. Col. Bruce Bancroft, Joint Assessment Team chief for the Kentucky Air National Guard. "Preparing for the possibility is essential to saving lives and getting the region back to normal as quickly as possible."

The 123rd Contingency Response Group is the only fully operational CRG in the Air National Guard and one of just seven CRGs in entire U.S. Air Force. It and the 688th RPOE have previously been verified by U.S. Transportation Command as fully mission capable to provide key assistance during national or international emergencies.