A Roundtable at the 21st EMTF: Lessons Learned


08/20/2011 – The final event at the Second Line of Defense visit to McGuire AFB and the 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force was a roundtable with several of the players in executing the missions of the EMTF.

Building Partnership

Lt. Col. A: Our squadron was just set up on the 18th of April. We’re just over three months old now.  We’re charged with going out and building partnerships.

The development of this squadron provides AFRICOM with dedicated teams of knowledgeable, expeditionary air mobility air advisers to focus on partnership building objectives.

These teams enhance AFRICOM and Air Forces Africa’s missions by enhancing cultural understanding; conducting sustained engagement with partner nations in order to build and strengthen long-term partnerships; and providing continuity and familiarization with the history, culture and languages of partner nations. Ultimately, this team will enhance Air Forces Africa’s ability to advise, assist and integrate partner forces.

As you’re well aware, air mobility is basically a system of systems.  It’s not just about launching aircraft; it’s not just about control on a runway.

SLD: No, it’s a core competence.

Lt. Col. A: It’s all of it.

The 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron was set up to provide air mobility advisory and assistance in support of the Air Force’s goal of building partner capacity. It is one of only two such squadrons of airmobility-dedicated air advisors in the U.S. Air Force and was the first unit of this type created within Air Mobility Command.

Once fully operational, the squadron will support combatant commanders and provide long-term continuity with our partner nations. The missions will typically be specific in scope and short in duration, but overtime build long-term partnership cooperation, interoperability and support.

SLD: Within a case, who are your working partners? I would assume they are the air power professionals in the given country?

Lt. Col. A: Yes, sir.

SLD: Okay.  So, the whole goal here is to work with counterparts to enhance their capability, and hopefully as we do that, they understand that we can work with them in situations that matter.  Is that your basic thought?

Lt. Col. A: Yes, sir.  We’re building from the ground up so it’s one of those things that I’m sure we’ll work and develop as we go along. The 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron was established in April and is not expected to reach Initial Operational Capability until December 2011 and Full Operational Capability is not expected until December 2012. Currently, ours is still developing their official concept of operations and does not have any official mission taskings.

However, we will participate as observers in a variety of Air Forces Africa engagements throughout the continent.  Specific engagements or participation timelines will be chosen to give the team opportunities to observe and understand the operating environment and develop appropriate operational procedures. This familiarization will also give us ample time to study the history, culture, needs and languages of partner nations so the educational efforts will have the greatest chance of success. Once fully operational, the 818th will be able to conduct assigned missions throughout Africa in order to build partner capacity in support of U.S. and AFRICOM objectives.

Supporting Afghan Surge Operations

Captain C described how the CRW supported surge operations in Afghanistan.  The basic role of the CRW team was to go to Afghanistan and augment a key NATO airbase and to support the delivery of equipment to the troops for operations. They worked at Mazar-e-Sharif which includes Camp Marmal, home to the German-led Regional Command – North, NATO International Security Assistance Force, composed of German, Croatian, Hungarian, and Norwegian forces. The military airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif is used by the U.S. military to airlift critical cargo such as mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles to the northern Afghanistan region.

Capt. C: We deployed to Mazar-e-Sharif with about 60-70 people.  We were deployed outside of the wire of the main NATO airfield. We actually had to leave the base every day and go around the flight line. And where we worked, we were building up that portion of it.  That was actually the Afghan airport side, which we worked right next to them.

We supported C-5Ms coming into the augmented base to unload and deploy equipment for operations. This was only the second deployment of C5-Ms.  The C-5s have had some serious reliability issues, but the C-5M is a different animal.

We had maintainers that were solely based just with the C5Ms.  We had brought our own guys who are quick maintenance — that’s what we do.  But they had actually a whole contingent of C5M maintainers, back shop flight line guys, but we didn’t use them in that capacity, because the jets flew very well.

And the C5-Ms were bringing in helos for the 4th Air Cavalry brigade and M-ATVs for the forward deployed brigade.

SLD: How long were you there?

Capt. C: It was a 60-day mission. And everything went well.  We also handed off that portion of the mission to the NATO forces towards the end of our stay.  We had a couple of the Americans that came into backfill us so we handed off the mission to them, so they did the same portion of what we were doing, but they were doing it on the NATO side.

When we picked up and left our mission, the outside-the-wire portion was gone.  And the NATO picked it up from their side.

As they were building up their area of the ramp, being able to support the increased cargo loads, we basically worked with them every day until they felt like they were ready to take it over.  And that was all said and done and it worked out with the time.  It was perfect.  Their side of the ramp opened up, and they had a cargo yard and their maintenance was working out of there.

Providing a deployable TACC for the force

Lt. Col. Beth L focused on the role of the team in providing mobile support for the CAOC in theater.  The role of the team is to provide support for the overall TACC mission but within a theater of operations.

Lt. Col. L: I’m a flight nurse by trade.  Outside, you already saw the shelters, our three-in-one shelters, which we have six of. Part of the AMOS includes our shelters.  Then, we have the base, the deployable coms, which you saw outside already.

And then, we have the air mobility division, which is a deployable TACC, which is the simplest term to describe our activity.

We have air medical evacuation, airlift, and aerial refueling support activities.  And then, along with that there are the three components.  We have maintainers, logistics, Intel, and command and control support elements.

We’re a deployable TACC, so we have standing deployments with the CAOC. And we provide the intra-theater lift and intra-theater aero-medial evacuation support.

In Haiti, we had folks command and control along with our deployable COM that went to Haiti.  We had folks at SOUTHCOM to provide support as well. And then, we had folks that were at NORTHCOM at Tyndall AFB doing all air mobility operations.

Haiti Operations

Lt Col. K and Master Sgt. B discussed the role of the CRW in the Haiti operation.

We went down to Haiti, about 60 hours or so after the earthquake happened.  Our job, our mission was a JTFP, which is joint taskforce port opening.  And so, the big picture, what we did, we went down, we opened up the airfield, we allowed aircraft to land, and once they landed, we download them, and put their cargo into a forward node, or into a cargo yard and then a forward node.

The joint part of that mission was that we do team an ARPO unit out of Fort Eustis.  And their job is essentially to take that cargo to a forward node and then we distributed out to the country.

Once we were down there, while we were doing the airfield ops, secure the airfield, work for the Haitian people.  We had daily contact with the state department, U.S. aid, and other militaries, foreign and commercial on a daily basis.

Air Mobility Liaison

Major Tim F discussed the role of the air mobility liaison officer in shaping mission success.

Their task is to learn to speak Army and USMC language to support effectively joint operations.

The 621st provides AMLOs to Army and Marine Corps units with airborne or heavy airlift deployment requirements. Embedded within the joint unit, the AMLO is the primary advisor to the supported commander on air mobility issues. While behind a desk, they are the go-between for the Army and Air Force. They arrange air transportation of Army assets to include supplies and personnel.  In the field, they do everything from familiarizing Soldiers with drop-zone surveys to fielding airdrops in some of the most hostile locations.

Their mission is diverse, and it really is largely dependent on the type of unit you’re supporting.  I can tell you working with a light infantry paratrooper is completely different than working with a heavy unit on the West Coast or even the Marines.

From my perspective, it was really about learning the Army culture.  For example, AMLOs learn to speak Army to the Air Force and speak Air Force to the Army.  And I can tell you as a C-130 instructor pilot that culture is very different.

The TACC Tasking Process and Execution

Master Sergeant S discussed the tasking process from TACC and how it gets executed on the ground.

Msgt. S: I work up in the wing operations office with eight other personnel.  While we don’t get to go out to the fight, we make sure everybody gets to the fight. Whether it’s doing humanitarian efforts… or if we’re out there helping the Afghanistan surge operations or anything else, anytime, anywhere.   We receive all of the incoming taskings. In a way, we’re like the liaison between TACC and 18th Air Force.

SLD: So you are looking at the infrastructure that has to be put in place to support the operation?

Msgt. S: Yes, sir.  We look at all of our capabilities.  When we receive the execution orders from the 18th Air Force and TACC, and are basically told what type of capability or requirement is being requested out in the field, we look at availability of assets. Whether it’s to support the Haiti earthquake relief, or Japan’s tsunami relief, etc.  We basically look at what we have available and make sure that we can fill all the billets that they need from us to go out into the field.

SLD: So you manage the gap between desires and reality with regard to a deployment?

Msgt. S: We have positions within the wing that are either currently deployed, getting ready to separate from the Air Force or they’re PCSing (Permanent Change of Station), so it’s hard to really fill some of those billets.  And then, we have to communicate that concern with TACC to help coordinate another fill elsewhere.  But most of the time, we’re pretty capable of filling every billet needed.  And we don’t really say no to too many missions; we try to take everything we can get, and get our teams out on the missions.

And nobody here really complains. We like to go out, because that’s what we do. That’s our job to go out there and help everybody else in the world who needs the assistance.  Or get our new fellow brothers out in the field where they need to be, or to bring them home, if that’s the case.

SLD: And I am sure, there is the challenge of matching the right personnel to the current mission.

Msgt. Sowers: That is a challenge.  The right manpower, the right core professional skills that we’re looking at for the mission is the challenge to be met.

Working with Pakistan

Lt. Col. U and Sgt. B discussed the challenges of working in Pakistan and the approaches shaped in partnership with the Pakistanis.

Sgt. B: I served in the Pakistani relief operations last Fall with Lt. Col. Underwood as the pre-commander. We were charged with bringing in the combat aviation brigade from the Army.  We brought their helicopters all being transported from Travis AFB on C5s and C17s.

SLD: Did the Pakistanis raise the cap on US personnel allowed in Pakistan during this operation?

Sgt. B: Yes they did.  We brought 36 people in our part of the operation.

SLD: So your primary effort was to support the insertion of the helos to help with flood relief?

Sgt. B: We did that.  That was our primary mission, and then our secondary mission really was to secure the access points within and throughout the hardest hit regions.  Many roads and bridges were blocked out, and relief teams just couldn’t get to certain areas. We worked to provide access. We used helos and C-130s to work to provide access in areas without road or bridge access.

SLD: And presumably, this is a topography flooded and disrupted, so who’s making the manned decisions on who goes where?

Lt. Col. U: One of the things we got to do there was they kind of take some pages from our building partnership mission that we saw emerging and help them.  In this case, we were able to work with the Pak military, but also, the civilian NDMA, which is the National Disaster Management Authority, which is like our FEMA.

And so, we were able to work with them and show them how to map where the needs were from the roads, from the NGOs, for the world food programs from the USAIDs.

SLD: And your data with regard to the actual situation, where was that coming from?

Lt. Col. U: It was feeding in from a lot of the NGOs that were already in place in the country, especially up in the North.

SLD: So they were giving you information on ground conditions in the flood disaster areas?

Lt. Col. U: Yes. The 26th MEU was providing information as well.  They would go into the South, and they would keep fanning out further every day trying to distribute aid.  They’d find more and more pockets, and they’d bring that information back.

We would consolidate that on our side, and bring that to a daily meeting.

SLD: So how did you put the information together to shape operations?

Lt. Col. U: It pretty much came down to good old grease pencil and maps.  We rolled the maps out on the big table in the conference room. We would show them these roads. We literally were drawing roads, these are still impassable, here are some pockets of people, and we need to move here or there.  We would designate operational sections of the country to each particular unit that might be helping or there’s a 16 CAV unit up in the North, the 26th MEU in the South, and the UN with their helicopters.

And we would try to distribute the aid that we would get to particular nodes.  Do a hub-and-spoke kind of system. We were doing a partnership building with them to shape a joint response to this disaster, and show logistical systems should be flexible and be able to think about the distribution of aid.

SLD: You have talked about logistics and tools to support the mission. You have also discussed the working relationships in country to determine how most effectively operate and support. These joint decision-making structures only come about because we have folks like you that build experience in operations and working with specific partners.  Partnership is a global concept; but the reality is it’s always local.

Lt. Col. U: you hit it, sir.  We delivered elements, whether you call them formal elements or semi-formal elements of our national power to affect a change in Pakistan.  We had economics aid elements by bringing by USAID in. We were able to talk to them, build relationships, whether it was the port commander or I. The freedom we gave them to keep their military focus on things that were good for our security by doing jobs that they would otherwise be called to do was important as well. And clearly I did not do this by myself; it was the 36 guys, besides me over there.

And these partnerships were built upon past efforts as well.

Sgt. B: I was there in 2005 doing the same operation, but that time due to the earthquake.  I’ve been in this fleet six years, and helped with the earthquake in 2005, which that was a lot more devastating compared to the floods.  But basically, it was the same type of operation and worked with many of the same people as before.