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Pope unit guides transient aircraft on joint missions

  • Published
  • By Sean Kimmons
  • Air Force News Service

Any aircraft that flies into Pope Army Airfield, Col. Kelly Holbert will know about it.

But Holbert’s unit, the 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group, has no aircraft of its own. As the only en route operations group in the continental U.S., the unit manages transient aircraft and the joint missions they fly on with Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty) paratroopers.

From airfield management and air traffic control to transient aircraft maintenance, fueling and loading, the 900-Airmen group stands by ready to help.

“In one way or the other we touch every aircraft that comes in and out of Pope,” said Holbert, who took command of the group in June.

With no assigned aircraft, the group, which also administratively supports another 1,000 Airmen from other units in the area, has helped take on additional joint training missions.

In recent years, Pope Airmen saw about 27 missions per month from the Joint Airborne/Air Transportability Training program, an online system used by military units to request air support. In the past year, they’ve seen up to 34 missions per month or about 20 percent more.

The group is “built to provide that excess capacity as we continue to grow the numbers of transient aircraft coming through to support airborne operations at Fort Bragg,” Holbert said.

That support was evident during an emergency deployment readiness exercise in mid-July that had 15 aircraft move and airdrop more than 750 Army paratroopers and heavy equipment over Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 96 hours -- a feat done on the heels of redeploying from Europe for exercise Swift Response.

“This is a no-notice mission as part of our global response force capability,” said Army Lt. Col. Mark Ivezaj, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Ivezaj’s unit is the GRF battalion, which trains to quickly deploy to crises anywhere in the world.

“Repetition is the key to success,” he said. “In order for our paratroopers to be confident in what they do they have to practice it and that relies heavily on the Air Force.

“We've developed really good relationships over time with the Air Force to ensure that we're meeting the global response force intent.”

A strong partnership is also needed when missions may not go as planned due to weather, maintenance or competing priorities.

“There's always going to be challenges in every type of training event or any type of operation we're going to do,” Ivezaj said. “At the end of the day we all have to remain flexible.”

Air Force units have responded to random setbacks and an increased need for joint training by sending extra aircraft to Pope Airfield.

So far this fiscal year, the Air Force has already provided at least 56,000 jumps to Army paratroopers, about 6,000 more than fiscal year 2015.

Those numbers will likely grow as the Air Force continues to support the GRF mission.

“We have to have that capability for our national leaders and we're dedicated to ensure that it does exist today and it exists in the future,” said Lt. Gen. Sam Cox, commander of the 18th AF, which oversees the group.

As part of that, the 43rd AMOG has a unique role at Pope Airfield in getting units the joint training they require to respond to emergencies.

“They can integrate with the Army to ensure that they're successful in whatever operations they're going to do there,” Cox said. “We have the assets that can get (paratroopers) where they need to go.”