JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA –
Members of the 14th and 16th Airlift Squadrons, 437th Airlift Wing, recently supported the 315th Airlift Wing Airlift Control Flight during Exercise Patriot Sands, an Air Force Reserve Command exercise, at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
U.S. Air Force Reserve ALCFs annually participate in the five-day exercise to train for their designed operational capability of deploying within 72 hours of tasking as a Contingency Response Element to a large-scale event or natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Aircrews here have previously participated in Exercise Patriots Sands, but this is the first time they have provided support throughout the whole exercise. Members from the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, South Florida Urban Search and Rescue, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Florida Task Force and the Florida Advance Surgical and Transport Team also participated in the exercise by providing response equipment and learning how to safely move cargo.
“We could be called at any time,” said Lt. Col. Erin Meinders, 437th Operations Group deputy commander, 437th AW. “We need to be prepared for emergency operations. We can’t be trying to prepare as a natural disaster is happening. Contingency timelines are much faster with a lot more fog and friction. We have to be able to operate with those reduced planning timelines.”
Meinders believes the most common types of cargo Joint Base Charleston’s aircrews see are pallets and people. The exercises provided 437th AW loadmasters the opportunity to train newer Airmen on moving cargo that typically isn’t moved through Charleston, including pick-up trucks, ambulances, boats and forklifts.
“Usually we don’t see complex loads until we go on missions,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Fortwengler, 437th Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of wing training, 437th AW. “It’s not too often we get an opportunity like this. The training was excellent. We hit the ground running and were constantly loading or unloading cargo. It can get frustrating dealing with the complex cargo, getting it just right so it doesn’t damage the aircraft or the equipment. There is no room for error.”
The aircrews flew 22 sorties, totaling 529,000 pounds of cargo, 139 passengers and 55 vehicles back and forth from MacDill AFB and Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. Fortwengler called the exercise successful but said there is always room for improvement. Planning for a similar exercise with the 437th AW and FBI has already begun.
“Our real world operations have slowed down little bit, so we’re trying to take advantage of nontraditional training opportunities before things pick up again,” said Meinders. “It really was a great opportunity for us. We are in the process of setting up more training with the FBI this fall.”