DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. – The world’s busiest airport got a little busier this week as Airmen from around the Air Force Reserve descended upon Atlanta to participate in this year’s Patriot Warrior exercise.
The goal of the exercise is to improve combat readiness through practical hands-on experience in a simulated austere environment, which includes two major areas: Dobbins Air Reserve Base serving as a major hub from which forward deployers departed to the simulated frontlines near Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin.
“It’s really the best reception, staging, onward movement and integration exercise we’ve done in a long time,” said Senior Master Sgt. Charles Carlin, deployment and distribution superintendent from the 439th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. For the exercise, he’s the Dobbins Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Flight installation deployment officer. “Year after year, it is the largest Air Force Reserve Command event like this that we run annually.”
Through this hands-on experience, Reserve Citizen Airmen qualify in critical contingency-oriented skills as they prepare to become expeditionary Airmen for world-wide deployments. Additionally, their experience also strengthens training programs back home.
The Dobbins ELRF processed more than 400 deployers arriving from units around AFRC. These deployers flew in commercially to Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and then traveled to Dobbins where they were processed and received their assignments.
About 40-50 Airmen remained at Dobbins to build up logistic support in a simulated deployed environment that served as a point of debarkation for those deploying forward. Those Airmen assigned to the Dobbins ELRF arrived a week earlier to prepare for these deployers. They stood up the base, which included setting up the airfield and aerial port, lodging and mess hall. Once the deployers arrived, Dobbins ELRF Airmen worked to process cargo and the forward-deploying Airmen, getting both loaded onto aircraft and carried forward to the exercise frontlines.
Dobbins also had some new aircraft on the flightline to complete this mission. In addition to the typical C-130H3 Hercules that take off here, the exercise relied on aircraft such as the C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker and C-5 Galaxy to fly rotator missions out of Dobbins and into the forward-deployed location.
In a real-world scenario, Dobbins would represent a busy aerial port in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, processing and moving people and cargo to forward-deployed locations, simulated in this exercise by a region between Minneapolis and Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“The whole challenge is to deploy the Airmen over the course of a very short period of time, stand up the airbase, start running aeromedical evacuation missions and a whole bunch of other training scenarios over the course of a few days and then tear it all down and redeploy back home,” Carlin said.
Other scenarios included command and control, land navigation, air drop, small arms training, explosive ordnance disposal tactical operations, and a variety of other situations expeditionary Airmen might face in a deployed environment.
Once they arrived in the simulated austere region, they joined more than 10,000 Air Force and Army reservists, for the other portion of Patriot Warrior, a joint exercise taking place in the forward-deployed location in the Midwest. This portion of the exercise began earlier this month and will run until late August.
Since the forward-deployed location is an austere environment, the Air Force Reserve and Army Reserve focus on different aspects to ensure mission success. For the Army, this means invading the contested region and then securing the area and airfield to allow the Air Force to come in and bring Airmen from all different career fields required to run the airfield, which will bring vital supplies and people into the region, Carlin said.
Airmen back at Dobbins faced several challenges getting their portion of the exercise up and running, but they were able to overcome them by working together and relying on training.
Carlin explained that one of the main challenges is the integration of dozens of units from around AFRC, which have never worked together before. There are also newer people in these units who haven’t had the opportunity to perform their jobs in a deployed environment. But the goal of the training is to provide these units and people with the opportunity to practice and excel in performing their duties throughout the exercise.
“When you’re brand new, you’re waiting for direction from someone to tell you what to do, whereas in this type of environment you can gauge what you’re supposed to do and go ahead and take the initiative and do it correctly,” explained Senior Airman Hayley Bowling, an air transportation journeyman for the exercise.
She said the deployed environment required everyone be flexible and react quickly to short-notice requirements. She also pointed out that it’s important to still perform the work correctly even though they’re constantly reacting to new situations.
Addressing these requirements, Bowling gained experience working in different areas of her career field. Back at her home unit, the 73rd APS, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, she typically works with passengers, but in the deployed environment she’s having to do a bit of everything – bouncing between working the ramp to passengers to cargo.
“Be ready to adapt at the last second for literally any situation,” Bowling said on her biggest takeaway from the exercise. “Because you don’t know what’s coming.”
Overcoming these challenges, the Airmen gained confidence in their ability to provide valuable support, no matter the timing or location.
“We’re simulating the stand up of an airbase from nothing, from just a dirt strip,” said Carlin. “From beginning to end. From the first folks showing up and the first (Contingency Response Team) that hits the ground running all the way through everybody coming in. This proves that we can still stand up an airbase anywhere on the planet with very little notice. Move in and basically start receiving and launching aircraft in under 72 hours’ notice.”