CRG enables strategic air operations at Qayyarah West

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
The wheels of a C-130 Hercules touched down at Qayyarah West Airfield Nov. 11. The tactical airlift workhorse, loaded with supplies and equipment to resupply the Mosul offensive, belonged to the Iraqi air force.

The landing was much more than routine; it was symbolic. It represented the first time a fixed wing Iraqi aircraft, loaded with cargo, landed at the strategic airfield since it fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters in 2014.

An U.S. Air Force Airman vectored the aircraft into the airspace while others marshaled in and offloaded the Iraqi C-130. These Airmen serve as some of the only ground based Air Force personnel at Qayyarah West. Assigned to the 821st Contingency Response Group based out of Travis Air Force Base, California, these Airmen are responsible for enabling and sustaining all air operations at the coalition airfield.

The airfield at Qayyarah West was recaptured from ISIL by Iraqi forces in July 2016, and has been refurbished by coalition engineers to allow the re-commencement of air operations. Qayyarah Airfield is now a vital logistical hub, opening an air corridor in support of the battle to liberate Mosul as well as operations throughout northern Iraq.

The 821st CRG is highly-specialized in training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain and coordinate air operations in austere, bare-base conditions.

Encompassing 29 separate Air Force specialties, the 821st CRG provides the core cadre of expeditionary command and control, airfield operations, security, communications, aerial port and aircraft maintenance personnel for worldwide deployment to assess airfields and extend the reach of airpower.

"We are designed to go where air infrastructure doesn't exist in order to bring to bear airpower where it needs to be," said Col. Rhett Champagne, the 821st CRG commander. "No other country can bring the forces and the airlift all the way around the world to start operations with the speed with which the United States does."

Upon arrival to Qayyarah West in mid-October, the 821st CRG established "airpower from the ground up," constructing command and control centers, configuring the runway to support fixed-wing mobility aircraft and de-conflicting a congested and compressed airspace.

Although the contingency response group traditionally enables the flow of fixed-wing mobility aircraft, they have continued to sustain a large contingent of rotary-wing aircraft in support of combat operations.

"The CRG is here as an enabling capability," said Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, the 821st CRG element commander. "Without us here, you're heavily reliant on ground lines of transportation. While they are heavily robust, they are a little less agile and not as rapid with their resupply capabilities as airlift is."

Baker added that coalition partners are heavily dependent on the airfield as a staging base to take the fight to ISIL and support the Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul.

"The pre-positioning of cargo, equipment and personnel here in order to facilitate that fight is vitally important," he said. "We are very humbled and appreciative of that effort to bring in and enable the capability to get aircraft in here to bolster the supply lines to get up to Mosul in the fight against (ISIL)."

As the Air Force's contingency response experts, 821st CRG Airmen will continue to provide the role of sustaining coalition and Iraqi forces conducting counter ISIL operations in Mosul.

All air operations conducted out of Qayyarah West are in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to degrade and defeat ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria and the wider international community.