PRANG 156 AW commander visits the 621 CRW

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ava Margerison
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing

The Commander for the Puerto Rico Air National Guard’s (PRANG) 156th Airlift Wing (AW) visited the 621st Contingency Response Wing (CRW) earlier this month.

Col. Raymond Figueroa’s visit to the CRW primarily focused on “sharing ideas” between the two wings. Figueroa emphasized how excited he was to learn more about how to develop an even stronger relationship to support the unique mobility missions for both wings.

“It’s fascinating how interrelated our operations are,” said Col. Charles Henderson, Commander for the 621 CRW. “It’s increasingly evident that our wings have an extensive web of crossed paths; Some of those we were both aware of, and some we’re interested to discover, develop, and learn more about.”

Right place, right time

This relationship was put to the test most recently in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. According to Figueroa, the link between the 621 CRW and 156 AW was a critical part in helping the island towards the road to recovery during the 621 CRW’s support to Northern Command’s hurricane relief operations this past fall.

“We quickly learned after the most recent hurricanes how very isolated Puerto Rico can be,” said Figueroa. “The quick response of the CRW and the assets and personnel provided were a tremendous support to help Puerto Rico start to get back on their feet.”

During the meeting between the two commanders, Henderson relayed the reciprocal support the 621 CRW experienced while carrying out the hurricane relief missions.

The 821st Contingency Response Group deployed an initial assessment team shortly after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean islands. At the time, Puerto Rico had not been as largely effected by the storms and therefore the 156 AW was able to help the 621 CRW team get ready for the next mission.

While the assessment team was transitioning from support to Northern Command missions in the Caribbean, the PRANG Security Forces Squadron offered equipment storage, access to offices for planning and opened laundry facilities for the members who had been away from home station for a significant time. This close relationship was a critical component to allowing the 821 CRG team to recuperate while they awaited transportation for follow-on mission taskings.

These wing ties run through the individuals too. The civil engineering officer on the same assessment team, Capt. Christian Ocasio, grew up in Puerto Rico and was prior enlisted in the 156th Security Forces Squadron at the PRANG. As part of the assessment team, Ocasio performed airfield assessments for three of the four major airfields in Puerto Rico. After the team re-deployed to the island, Ocasio was able to check on his family while he worked with the air mobility liaison officers as a local area expert and linguist. He provided his expertise to help set the conditions for additional 621 CRW support teams arriving to Roosevelt Roads.

Two wings building partnerships

Back at McGuire AFB, the 621 CRW also works with the 156 AW during more routine operations within the 621st Air Mobility Advisory Group. The 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron (MSAS) has been employing an augmentee program which supports the squadron’s broad advisory responsibilities across the African continent.

The 818 MSAS Director of Operations, Lt. Col. Jonathan Magill, explained that the MSAS started working more extensively with the PRANG personnel after partnering together during a mission in Ethiopia.

“Since the PRANG had C-130 experience and Ethiopia was looking for training on C-130s, it really was a huge benefit to both the Ethiopian Air Force and us in getting our mission done,” said Magill. “The PRANG really liked the partnerships as well and the experience that they were getting, so we looked at expanding the program.”

Senior Master Sgt. Armando Cantres, PRANG propulsion superintendent 156th Maintenance Squadron, is now serving as an augmentee within the MSAS as a direct result of this initial partnership.

Cantres has served in the PRANG for more than 24 years and previously served as a C-130 Hercules training program Air Advisor in 2014 during his third deployment to Afghanistan.

“For me, being an air advisor for a partner nation was something new,” said Cantres “It caught my attention because this time my role was different than previous deployments to Afghanistan. I was showing that partner nation what they need to do to take care of their own. After that, I always wanted to be an advisor again, and the MSAS gave me that opportunity.”

The PRANG superintendent is on a 180-day temporary duty assignment with the MSAS. He serves as an air advisor for multiple MSAS missions and provides much needed expertise while developing the training curriculum as a C-130 maintenance manager.

“My goal is to take the maintenance program to the highest level possible,” said Cantres. “I want to help provide a standardized maintenance curriculum so every advisor that comes in as an augmentee or as a permanently assigned MSAS member will have a tool to use to go to any partner nation and teach the same way like we do in the U.S. Air Force.”

The MSAS is comprised of personnel from 34 different Air Force Specialty Codes. However, due to the small unit size, only a few individuals represent each of the AFSCs. The MSAS is able to expand its air advising capability and provide a larger scope for mission support leaning on their strong relationship with the PRANG.

“The augmentee program is really beneficial to the wing, to our unit, and to the African partner nations,” said Magill “It really allows us to find expertise within our own Air Force that we wouldn’t necessarily have in the squadron and capitalize on that expertise when we go into various countries to tailor our training specifically to meet the needs of that partner nation.”

At the conclusion of the visit, it was apparent that both the 156 AW and the 621 CRW hope to continue to grow the operational relationship well into the future to increase the capability and reach of their unique air mobility missions.