Airspace controllers exercise to support contingencies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The trucks roared in a single file line bound for a new site atop a barren hill.

Upon arrival, the travelers unloaded tents, generators, cables, meals and various materials to survive the week.

Pre-dawn mist sprawled across the forest-laden hills of Gerolstein as they began building their home for the week July 12 - 20.

They trudged through damp fields as rain pelted their faces and drenched their clothes. Rough hands positioned unhitched trailers loaded with pallets of supplies and sunk into the soft ground. By noon, the empty field had grown into a small village the weary travelers looked upon as they dug their plastic spoons into packets of "chili-mac."

This was day one of Eifel Strike 2012, an annual week-long field exercise in which 606th Air Control Squadron Airmen exercise their ability to transport equipment and set up a control and reporting center. A CRC is a tactical command and control site that has radar, satellite communications, as well as everything else required to survive and accomplish the mission in a remote location.

The squadron's Airmen have 20 different technical specialties and are from 18 different work centers. These Airmen deploy for six months and are home for 12 months. They train continually to ensure they're ready to mobilize within a moment's notice to support theater and combatant commanders in combat operations.

"In our hearts this exercise is not a training mission - this is, 'We need to mobilize now,'" said Lt. Col. Justin Hickman, 606th ACS commander. "We're working long days to get this done. We train and prepare for this so when 606 Airmen are woken up at 3 a.m. (to mobilize), they can do it at an accelerated pace."

Senior Airman Tyler Bigler, 606th ACS communications technician, realized the sense of urgency needed to build the site and start the mission the moment his boots hit the ground.

"Our objective is to have a full radar site set up and ready to go," he said as he stood by a recently built tent. "We also have to get dropped off in a site and instantly build our own base camp from the bottom up. Practicing that out here in the field helps us do that in real world situations; it makes us more efficient."

For Tech. Sgt. Shannon Loring, 606th ACS electronic protection technician, training like this also helps the squadron recognize lessons learned to conduct real-world missions more efficiently. At this year's training, the rainy weather presented hardships to challenge Airmen's capabilities.

"This year, we got our radar out here to get it operational for live missions," she said.

Once the site is complete, the 606 ACS will control airspace and support the pilots of the 480th Fighter Squadron (flying F-16 Fighting Falcons), German Tornado multirole fighter aircraft and Eurofighter Typhoons with a wide-area surveillance of up to 215 nautical miles.

"We're going to work with the 480th FS; and previously we've worked with the 81st FS...we mission plan for better integration and that makes us stronger as a team when we deploy for our respective missions," Hickman said. "While (pilots) focus on their missions, whatever they may be tasked with, they can do it knowing the 606th is watching their back."

The 606th ACS will also set up data links to communicate with higher headquarters, relay messages to pilots and work with their German counterparts at the Gerolstein Bundeswehr, who are supporting the training site.

"When we work with the Gerolstein Bundeswehr, we're able to coordinate with them and train with them," Hickman said. "The Host Nation community and military here are excellent hosts, and we in return are good guests. Without the use of this training site, we couldn't complete our necessary deployment training."

Hickman also said none of this would be possible without the support of the 52nd Fighter Wing and the local community.

For example, 52nd Security Forces Squadron coordinated with the local police department to get the convoy to the site without disrupting the local commuters. The 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron assisted with site preparation and the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron helped with deploying some of the 606th ACS's equipment. Additionally, the 52nd Operations Support Squadron helped with scheduling the flying missions that the 606th ACS would control.

"A lot of people in the wing helped us out, and that's what's great about being in the Saber Nation," he said.

With endless days in the week ahead, Airmen look not only upon the site they built from the ground up scattered with tents, a radar tower and power generators, but to the opportunities that will build them up and give them a bigger perspective of their roles in the ACS mission.

Hickman said he hopes each Airman -- whether they're a surveillance technician, vehicle maintainer, radar maintenance technician or communication technician - will see how important they are to the squadron's mission, and step off the training field this Friday knowing, "I've done this in training; I know I can do it in a real-world contingency."