Airpower...from the ground up: Exercise Eagle Flag

  • Published
  • By Capt. Brooke Brzozowske
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs

From March 2 to 14, 2014, the boots of Airmen and Soldiers participating in Exercise EAGLE FLAG, arrived on the sands of the fictional nation of 'Dakaar' and began executing mobility operations 'from the ground up'.

Exercise EF is a U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center hosted exercise used to execute and evaluate mobility operations and expeditionary combat support. Participants must operate within a challenging, realistic, and immersive fictional environment.

The one week exercise occurs four times a year including these two back-to-back exercises. During this exercise, the once barren ground and lonely air strip outside of 'Dakaar' changed to full scale operations within days.

"The Joint Task Force-Port Opening mission fuses the rapid airbase opening capability of the Air Force's Contingency Response Group with the critical over-land cargo movement capability of the Army's Rapid Port Opening Element. Within just a few hours after the joint team's arrival, we turn a patch of empty earth into a bustling logistics support hub," said Col. Scott Zippwald, 570th Contingency Response Group commander and commander of the JTF-PO.

A 53-degree temperature swing welcomed some of the unit's first arrivals and assessment teams. Rain and then snow covered the land, and service members had to put up their tents and begin operating in 12-degree weather.

Some service members were new to the environment, while others were EF veterans, but each played a pivotal role in executing the mission, Zippwald explained.

"The entire week was an education in overcoming the unexpected," said Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres, 621st Contingency Response Wing chief of public affairs and participant at EF 14-1. "Our first day 'on the ground' was cancelled due to a winter storm, and as the week went on, we seemed to be in an actual war with the weather."

But the units remained strong, finishing their tasks.

The 570th CRG from Travis AFB, CA paired with the 690th Rapid Port Opening Element from Fort Eustis, VA successfully passed their validation with U.S. Transportation Command to ready them for alert. On week two, the exercise repeated with the 817th CRG from JBMDL, NJ paired with the 688th RPOE from Fort Eustis, VA as a training exercise for future validations.

"The participants, cadre, and support personnel did a phenomenal job of working through the elements," said Lt. Col. Brandon Casey. "On top of that, we threw in foreign military participation and distinguished visitors. They had a number of audiences watching them perform their mission under challenging conditions."

Those audiences included three different nations - American Soldiers and Airmen, Swedish Air Forces and British Royal Air Force members. The foreign visitors observed and worked alongside contingency units from California, New Jersey, and Virginia.

"The British, in particular, have been involved in EF for a few years now," said Casey. "Initially, they came just to observe and take back lessons learned to apply to their units. However, over time, their role has grown to include enhancing and participating in the exercise to the benefit of both nations."

Also among the distinguished visitors was Vice Adm. William A. Brown, the deputy commander of USTRANSCOM. Brown's role has him responsible for tasking JTF-PO missions around the globe, explained Casey.

""The members who work within the EC have operated across a spectrum of war-fighting and mobility missions," said Maj. Gen. Rick Martin explained to Vice Adm. Brown. "Exercises like EAGLE FLAG provide an opportunity to hone expeditionary skills and integrate many skill sets and mission partners."

Along with new visitors, this exercise welcomed the arrival of the local 87th Mission Support Group, whose leadership joined the exercise briefly as 'follow-on forces' near the end of the first week's exercise.

The 87th MSG leadership played the role of the lead element of forces that would assume control and expand the base after the JTF-PO, explained Casey. The British, who have played this role a number of times previously, took on a trainer role with the 87th aiding them in the continuity of the process.

While all of the hustle of mobility operations was taking place, aircraft took off and landed right outside the tent city.

The hard vibrations of C-17 Globemasters, C-130 Hercules, and the hum of the Marine Aircraft Group 49's CH-53 Super Stallion offered an expeditionary soundtrack of sorts for quick movement of crews loading and offloading tons of cargo.

"The first JTF-PO moved 1,185 short tons of cargo during the weather-abbreviated week one, and the second JTF-PO hauled another 1,718 short tons," Casey said. "Combined, that's almost 6 million pounds of cargo moved in under two weeks--an impressive capability."

"The USAF EC prides itself in executing 'Airpower...from the ground up!'," Martin concluded. "The EC is the AF's premier source of training ground forces. This exercise is a true demonstration of the level of integration that goes into making our Airmen truly world-class innovators."