TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A team of 10 Airmen from the 621st Contingency Response Group participated in an agile combat employment exercise Sept. 1-3 at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, with other active-duty and Air National Guard Airmen from across the United States.
Devil Raiders brought their unique multifunctional skill sets to the exercise that also tested the Advanced Battle Management System, which is a state-of-the-art system designed to provide combatant commanders the ability to control Department of Defense assets in real time.
According to an Air Force news story, the goal of ABMS is to enable the Air Force and Space Force to operate together as a joint team – connecting sensors, decision makers and weapons through a secure data network enabling rapid decision making and all-domain command and control.
The 621st Contingency Response Wing team provided security forces, command and control, aircraft maintenance, aerial port and communications Airmen for the ACE exercise.
During the exercise, the team flew from Buckley to Nellis via New York’s 109th Airlift Wing LC-130 Hercules aircraft.
“After we land, everything moves quick,” said Tech. Sgt. Greg Hochgesang, 621st Contingency Response Squadron aircraft maintenance craftsman.
Once the Devil Raiders landed on the first chalk, the security forces Airmen secured the airfield in a traditional and unconventional way.
“Our defenders employed the robot dogs,” said Master Sgt. Lee Boston, 321st CRS loadmaster and the CR team chief for the exercise. “These robot dogs are a new technology that we’re testing as part of the exercise. The dogs give us visuals of the area, all while keeping our defenders closer to the aircraft.”
After the airfield was secured, maintainers assessed their own aircraft for damage, then marshalled the next LC-130 into its spot.
“The second chalk has the munitions, weapon loaders, rolling stock and other supporting Airmen,” said Hochgesang. “Immediately after landing, the munitions and weapon loaders set up their loading site.”
After a quick assessment of the second C-130, the aircraft maintainers were marshalling the MC-130J Commando II, which brings the forward area refueling point or FARP capability.
“As soon as parked, you see the loading ramp lower and immediately you see Airmen bring down the fuel hoses to get set up for the Integrated Combat Turn,” said Hochgesang.
The ICT is the term for rapid re-arming and refueling of an aircraft, which in this case was four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and the 140th Wing at Buckley, which landed shortly after the MC-130J.
Once the F-16s were on the ground, the weapons loaders expediently armed the F-16, then the “hot pit” refueling process began. The hot pit refuel is the term for when at least some of the aircraft instrumentation and possibly engines are still running while receiving fuel.
Hochgesang said this was one of the trickiest parts of the exercise.
“As heavy maintainers, we’re usually not around fighter aircraft much,” said Hochgesang, who was a C-17 Globemaster III crew chief prior to being assigned to the CRW. “Luckily, we’ve gotten the opportunity to shadow F-16 maintainers at Shaw to get our feet wet, which is very helpful. Every fighter is a little bit different, so it’s important for us to recognize those subtle differences prior to a mission.”
As if the intricacies of a new aircraft weren’t enough of a challenge, the CRW maintainers also had to perform the hot pit refuel in a fraction of the time it is normally accomplished.
“It’s impressive to see how quickly it happens,” said Boston. “From the time they’re on the ground, the goal is to get the F-16s fueled, armed and airborne again in 45 minutes.”
Once the ICT was complete, all aircraft took off in the reverse order in which they landed.
“I thought our team executed flawlessly, which is no surprise but it was good to see our Airmen represented well,” said Boston.
Boston sees value in CRW units participating in these types of exercises in the future.
“At a minimum, these are great discussions to have,” said Boston. “Agile Combat Employment is not a new concept, but as we continue to find more efficient ways of using our mobility and combat forces, it’s important that we communicate the need to be multifunctional and to find better ways of doing the mission.”