The 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force (EMTF): A Unique Global Insertion Force


07/22/2011: In late June 2011, Second Line of Defense visited McGuire Air Force Base and was briefed on the 621st Contingency Response Wing resident to the 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force.  This unique asset operates globally to create airfields on demand to support the USAF’s ability to insert force worldwide in support of the joint force.The tour began with a discussion with Brigadier General Scott P. Goodwin, Commander of the 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force and with Col. Chris “Krispy” Patterson, Commander of the 621st Contingency Response Wing otherwise known as the “Devil Raiders.” After the overview discussion, we were shown various elements of the CRW capability and participated in a roundtable with several practioners of the CRW art.  In later articles, each of these elements and the roundtable discussion will be discussed.

SLD: Could you explain the nature of the EMTF?

General Goodwin: There are two EMTF’s in existence, one on each coast. If you think about air mobility command, there are generation forces, maneuver forces, and acceleration forces. We are the acceleration forces.  The generation forces are the bases that generate the airplanes and crews and put them out into the system.  The maneuver forces are the airplanes and the crews, and the acceleration forces are those who are out there providing the enterprise, the en route network that the maneuver forces flow through.

SLD: They are the tip of the spear, so to speak?

General Goodwin: Exactly. We’re part of air mobility command, 18th Air Force, and again, one of the two EMTFs, we’re the eastern half of the enterprise; whereas the 15th EMTF traverses the western half of the enterprise.We look east to Europe, Asia, Africa and we’re kind of split with regard to South America.  Depending on who’s there and who’s available, either CRW team might go there.Within each EMTF, there are two wings.  You have an AMOW, an Air Mobility Operations Wing.  And a CRW, or a Contingency Response Wing.

The AMOW essentially is the fixed portion of the enterprise.  They operate all the hub locations. They function as the AMC hub locations in their theater of operations. The wing commander at Ramstein has got about 2,400 people in 16 countries, 21 locations.  He touches about 40,000 arrivals and departures a year.If you look at passengers, cargo, departures, literally over half of what air mobility command does flows through, as you would expect, the eastern half of the enterprise.  And they stay busy, any crisis that erupts there, they’re there supporting.  It’s the fixed forward-deployed presence.

SLD: Could you explain the difference between the AMOW and the CRW?

General Goodwin: Ramstein is a fixed location or fixed hub.  That is the AMOW. The capability to open up an operation where we have no standing air mobility command presence, that’s what the CRW does.For example, Haiti, we didn’t have a military passenger and cargo operation. But we needed one, because we were going to be pushing a lot of military airplanes, organic and charted aircraft into there, bringing aid.  We needed somebody to provide the command and control, the maintenance, the aerial port, all those support functions for the DOD assets that were going to be flown in there. The CRW did that.That’s why we had these guys on-call to provide that mobile capability wherever we need it.  And we don’t have a standing AMC presence.

SLD: And your role in all of this?

General Goodwin: I’m in essence, a regional vice president for a major airline: the regional vice president for Europe and the Mideast. And my job is to make sure that all those services that are required on the ground are provided.  At Ramstein we have an air mobility command tenant organization.  521st air mobility operations wing [521st AMOW] provides all the support services for the C5s, the C-17s, and the commercial charters coming through there.

SLD: And also functions as a transit or service center?

General Goodwin: In essence, yes. We have a small command center there that will provide the command and control, redirect missions, we’ll provide them all the flight dispatch information.  All the flight planning and weather information.  We have maintainers there who will park the airplanes, refuel the airplanes, perform some minor maintenance.And we will do the on and offload of the airplane, be it cargo or passengers.  And we’ll provide all the servicing of the aircraft, all the lavatory trucks.  Meals, all that kind of things for all the airplanes that are coming through and transiting Ramstein.  It’s a transient service operation.

SLD: How many people in the CRW?

Col. Patterson: About 650. We have about 50 different, what we call Air Force Specialty Careers (AFSC)Everything from contracting finance officers, PA officers, civil engineers, communications or everything you would need for the operation.  The main ones are aerial port, maintenance, and command and control.But everything you would need to operate out at the deployed locations. For example, when we went to Pakistan last fall after the devastating floods in Pakistan…We needed everything from people who could set up tents, generators, electricity to give us a place to live, or people who crew the aircraft.We can create a very small, little base to support us.

SLD: I assume that having a group with experience is crucial to this command?

Col. Patterson: I’m sure we’re older than the average wing [average age].  We have very few first assignment airmen who come here.And once the Airmen have their fundamental skill sets down, we’ll teach them how to do operate those skills in an expeditionary environment.  We’re going to teach them really how to solve problems in all sorts of environments. What we do in the complex environments that we enter…we’re all about solving problems and solving those problems in places where we’ve never been before.   We really challenge our Airmen to think, and to think outside the box.

SLD: obviously, you’re harvesting your lessons learned as you have a core competence in being an expeditionary, tip of the spear operation, you’re trying to harvest the lessons learned for that.

Col. Patterson: Correct.  And all that information is getting captured through the various databases on lessons learned.  We’re constantly populating those databases…And no two deployments are ever the same. It always changes and that’s really our focus when we train and equip our airmen. We have the standard skill set that we try to train everybody to, but in practice, the airmen are problem solvers for a wide range of circumstances.  That’s what we do.

SLD: This clearly is a team with core competencies to be a flexible insertion force

General Goodwin: I would say I think the main focus that we try to teach our airmen that it is about flexibility, because you just don’t know what it’s going to be when you get there.  And so, we train hard while we’re here, and that’s what we do most of the time until they need us. You tailor the force to the operation.

SLD: You seem to have a template of what you need to see for a successful operation; and then you measuring against that template.

General Goodwin: Exactly. We will tailor it as required. And you talked about the flexibility of the command.  When you think about the basic package to go out and open an airfield, it’s what 154 people?  All specialties.  A lot of them are one and two deep. And what they’re going to do with 154 people…if all I’ve got is an airfield, they’re going to drop in on top of that.  Several C-17 loads will get all of them in there, all their equipment, everything they need to sustain themselves, plus operate the airfield catching two C-17s simultaneously, 24-hour operations.

For example, with two 24-hour operations providing airfield security, they will bring their own contracting people, they bring their own public affairs people.  Everything. But that contracting guy who’s going to come, he may only have to write a couple of contracts, but he’s there for this 60-day deployment.  The rest of the time, what’s he doing?  Well, he’s setting up tents, he’s doing everything else he can.  So, they’re very reliant on cross-training.

SLD: It is a light footprint?

General Goodwin: It’s very light; it’s very agile.

SLD: What spectrum of combat operations does the CRW operate within?

General Goodwin: Permissive to uncertain. Anything above uncertain, they’re going to need additional augmentation for force protection. For example, the biggest scenario would be something like having the Army jumping out of 17s to seize the airfield.  They would set up the perimeter, secure the airfield, and then, our forces would operate

SLD: The CRW, although an Air Force operation, then supports the joint force?

General Goodwin: Exactly.  And in fact, the CRWs, we always have four contingency response groups, two on each coast.  One of them is always on alert as part of what we call JTF-PO.  Joint Taskforce Port Opening.  It’s a TRANSCOM organization where they’re married with an Army unit, and they would go in exactly as you talked about, either into a permissive environment, or immediately after a seizure force to set up the airhead and create that joint RSOI capability.

SLD: What is an RSOI capability?

General Goodwin: Reception Staging Operations Integration.They’re globally oriented; they’re a crisis response force.  They open airbases and operate that air cargo/air passenger type of support at some austere location where there is no standing DOD presence.  That’s their whole reason for existence.Again They are located primarily here at McGuire and we have onesey, twosies imbedded with Army and Marines.  AMLOs, Air Mobility Liaison Officers who help teach them how to use air mobility.  You’re talking to that marine unit that says hey, you’re going to go here, here’s how we can help get you to the fight, and here’s how we can help sustain your fight. They’re educated on our capabilities, and they are liaising with the ground forces.

SLD: How do you organize your operation with regard to time scale, short versus longer-term insertion?

General Goodwin: If we expected to be there for a short-term presence, you know, 30, 45, 60 days, I would bring in contingency response forces to open that airbase and operate it. And then, when the operation was concluded, they’d pack up, they’d go home; we’re done.  Just like we did in Romania and Bulgaria.  It was a short-term operation, it was a deliberate operation, so we knew about it in advance, so we sent in an assessment team of about a half dozen, eight people.  They got the lay of the land, figured out what was there, what we needed to bring, what we didn’t need to bring, they came home, built our plan.  We then sent the forces in, they did the job, they packed up, they came home.That was a short-term operation.

But now, let’s say it’s going to be a long-term operation.  We’re opening up an airbase in Afghanistan.  And we know we’re going to have a longer-term presence, ranging from six months, a year, or multiple years. The contingency response forces are going to go in there, they’re going to open the airbase and set the conditions for the AEF or the RFF forces to come in behind and operate that base long-term.They can operate in either mode.

SLD: There’s clearly an ownership issue here. Your forces are coming in and owning the operation for a period of time and then turning it over to a follow on force or simply terminating the operation?

General Goodwin: Exactly. The seizure force is going to kick the door down, we go in, initially set up house, and begin to prepare the base for the follow-on forces.

SLD: What happens when you get too much surge going on at the same time?

General Goodwin: You’ve spent time with 18th Air Force, you’ve spent time with TACC.  That’s where we plug in with that.  That’s where the interface happens, that’s where the conversation happens.

SLD: So then, they can give you more capability?

General Goodwin: Correct. What’s going to happen is we’re aware of the situation, there’s a conversation that takes place with General Allardice, the18th Air Force commander.  He owns all these forces. Eighteenth Air Force is going to issue the orders that say okay, we’re going to send a group of contingency responders to that location for that purpose.  Once they go, then the command and control of that operation is going to come back through the TACC for day-to-day execution.We’re the ground support side of what happens out in the field.  We are the acceleration forces.

SLD: One of the amazing things is how many diverse operations are commanded by the TACC?

General Goodwin: Eight, nine-hundred missions a day.We’ve talked a lot about AMC and us being an acceleration force, which we are.  But just to be clear, there is an airbase opening piece that is absolutely unrelated to air mobility command.For example, in Iraq, the CRW forces opened Tallil airbase, which went on to be an operating base.  And we did not go there to set up a mobility hub, but opening an airbase is an air mobility command function.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an AMC base or not, we will go and open it for the joint force. We can open up the base and hand it off to anybody for any purpose.

Col. Patterson: And we do train for that. We train for the how we open a base and then hand it off to somebody else.

SLD: What’s the rhythm between the actual going out and the rhythm of training?

Col Patterson: Our operations have picked up pace in the past two years, Haiti, Pakistan, Japan or Libya come to mind.But the operations pace is very cyclical and we frequently spend four months on alert preparing ourselves to deploy within 12 hours.  [Joint Task Force-Port Opening is the four-month on alert. And normally when you’re on alert, that’s the quietest time. Most of the taskings that we respond to are not 12-hour taskings.  We usually know days, weeks, months in advance. While we’re on alert, we use that as an opportunity to do a lot of local training and really polish our skills.