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Rapid Global Mobility at work after Maria

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Laurie Arellano
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center

The 2017 hurricane season has been particularly active for expeditionary mobility Airmen, who have supported over 1,600 cargo and emergency supply flights to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and the aeromedical evacuation of close to 200 patients affected by Hurricane Maria. Over 200 Airmen from across the Expeditionary Center enterprise, primarily out of the 621st Contingency Response Wing, are currently engaged in relief efforts on the ground in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Under the umbrella of the Air Force Expeditionary Center, the 621st Contingency Response Wing, based at both Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis Air Force Base, Calif, is poised to respond within hours to a crisis anywhere in the world. From wartime taskings to disaster relief, the 621st CRW is highly specialized in training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open an aerial port, establish an airbase, provide aeromedical evacuation, receive cargo and advise and train host nation forces.

Additional Air Mobility Command Airmen from other Expeditionary Center units, including a contingent from the 43d Air Mobility Operations Group, Pope Field, NC, are augmenting the cargo movement and aeromedical evacuation missions.

“Our focus is on two specific areas-food, water and sustainment aid, and building capacity,” said Maj. Breanna McNair, Deputy Director of USAF EC Operations, Logistics and Plans. “The majority of the 200-plus mobility Airmen deployed to support the relief effort are located in Puerto Rico receiving cargo shipments of food and water, medical supplies, sand bags and equipment and moving that cargo to centers where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel pick it up for distribution where they determine it is needed most.”

FEMA is the lead federal agency in charge of coordinating Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Contingency Response Airmen deploy as part of Defense Support to Civil Authorities agreements and provide airlift, medical evacuation, logistical support and engineering operations such as road-clearing.

Much of the cargo delivered into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico so far includes water, meals ready to eat (MREs), disaster relief beddown sets and emergency medical supplies.

“We’ve also brought in mobile medical units, helicopters, Humvees, high capacity generators and even an AT&T cellular service tower,” said McNair.

The United States Air Force Expeditionary Center is the Air Force's Center of Excellence for advanced mobility and combat support training and education. Located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., the center also has direct oversight for en route and installation support, contingency response and partner capacity-building mission sets within the global mobility enterprise.

“The USAF EC's contingency response forces are the nation’s first responders to execute rapid global mobility whenever and wherever we’re called upon,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher J. Bence, commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center. “Providing relief support is not just our job, it’s also a huge honor. There are very few mission sets that we are more proud to execute than assisting people in their greatest time of need.”

McNair said with the initial buildup of forces capable of providing sustainment operations now complete, the response is shifting to an enduring effort. Additional Airmen capable of remaining longer term will continue to arrive, allowing the mission to transition from crisis response to sustained operations.

“Mobility teams will continue providing needed services on the island as infrastructure is being restored,” McNair said.