GEILENKIRCHEN NATO AIR BASE, Germany --
Much like the mighty Bison animal, the 470th Air Base Squadron "Bison" are strong, courageous, resilient, resourceful, smart, reliable, and adaptable. The mission of the 470th ABS is to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Department of Defense, and family members while enhancing and providing combat-ready capabilities.
"The highly professional local support we obtain from the 470th ABS is not just about saving time, but lets us focus on NATO's only flying mission and keeping the high operations tempo moving,” said Capt. Charles Courtney, Airborne Warning and Control System Navigator, NATO, Operations Squadron 1.
The 470th ABS was created in 1994 as the U.S. National Support Unit for the tri-border region surrounding Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, but the history of the Air Base goes much deeper. In 1951, the British began construction for the base, which was later turned over to German control in 1968. In 1982, NATO's flying mission with the AWACS began and in the next decade it was determined a U.S. National Support Unit would help provide crucial support toward mission success.
The 470th Air Base Squadron functions as a “Mini Wing” supporting 14 Geographically Separated Units scattered over Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. They support a 10,000 square mile area of responsibility that services all branches of the DoD, including the Coast Guard. As a medical records technician, Senior Airman Nicholas Huber says it is a unique and interesting opportunity to learn about so many other cultures and customs of foreign militaries.
"Sometimes it adds extra processes with the multi-level of regulations and laws, but this adds a challenge and opportunity I would not get anywhere else," Huber said.
With 163 Airmen, they service nearly every medical and mission support need for 3,200 joint active duty, civilians, and base-level support to an additional 1,410 NATO members, to include family members from 17 countries.
“The best thing about the 470th is that you never hear anyone say ‘that’s not my job.’ When our only housing manager was out sick for 5 months we had civil engineering, host aviation resource management, squadron aviation resource management, communications, finance, and security forces running the office. Nearly everyone on GK has to cover jobs that are far outside the scope of their Air Force Specialty Code to keep the mission going. It’s beautiful to watch our Airmen innovate to overcome challenges that no one else in the Air Force is having,” said Master Sgt. Jamie Smith, the 470th ABS First Sergeant.
A sample of the real-world missions the squadron currently supports include; Threat Assurance Measures – Turkey, Operation SEA GUARDIAN, Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE, port security and anti-piracy operations.
The bulk of their support is to the 16 AWACS aircraft and 20 fully integrated coalition aircrews stationed on Geilenkirchen, as well as; Head Quarters of Allied Joint Force Command, NATO Airborne Early Warning and Command, NATO Joint Airpower Competence Center, NATO Combined Air Operations Center, U.S. Coast Guard Schinnen, U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen, U.S. Army Garrison Brunssum. In addition to that, they service many of the needs of a permanent rotation of KC-135s, Klein Brogel/Vokel MUNSS sights, and any other assistance needed by U.S. personnel and posts in their 10,000 AOR.
“There are few places in the Air Force where medics contribute to such a wide variety of real-world missions,” said Lt. Col. Ray Vincent, 470th ABS base medical services director. “From anti-piracy to threat assurance measures to counter ISIL to port security across three continents, Bison medics prepare the warfighters to go downrange, and then care for them when they return. During their time away, they can rest assured that their families are receiving the best medical care in the Air Force.”
A unique part about being an Airman at Geilenkirchen is the opportunity to do many things outside of their assigned career fields.
"Geilenkirchen allows Airmen to truly be Air Force Airmen, not just career Airmen," said Master Sgt. Gwennan Dobson, 470th ABS superintendent. "It can be a challenging assignment due to the amount of responsibility and one to two deep positions, but that allows NCOs to take charge of their sections and learn leadership firsthand at an early point in their career."
Within the squadron, there are 35 AFSC, and 12 of these are one deep positions. The highest total number in any of the respective AFSC’s, is six, which explains why more senior personnel are normally assigned to the unit.
Working in the 470th with less than 175 support personnel to ensure success of a diversely unique force and mission is a very proud moment for many during their assignment at GK.
”This unit combo of experience, intelligence, pride and a true grit of our Air Force core values is the best,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Marshall, 470th ABS commander.
Operating in a unique environment with required skills sets, accomplishing both NATO and U.S. Air Force missions and priorities is an engrained characteristic of the Bison’s daily regime.