821st CRG deploys throughout the Caribbean

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Robert Hicks
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
The 821st Contingency Response Group stationed at Travis Air Force Base, California, deployed four teams throughout the Caribbean to support Hurricane Maria disaster relief efforts.

According to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s governor, the island has not experienced an event of this magnitude in their modern history. The hurricane struck with winds up to 155 miles-per hour and left millions of people without water, power, or telephone coverage.

The 621st Contingency Response Wing has been actively engaged in all hurricane response support. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, 157 members were tasked to deploy to San Juan, Roosevelt Roads, Ponce, and Aguadilla in Puerto Rico. The wing continues to support from stateside locations as well to help manage airflow and relief-mission support in coordination with the appropriate agencies.

“The contingency response groups in the CRW are self-sufficient and deploy with all personnel, equipment and supplies to execute the mission,” said Lt. Col. John Berger, contingency response element commander. “In our squadron alone we have approximately 22 different Air Force Specialty Codes, and we pride ourselves on cross utilization…the 157 Airmen here in Puerto Rico have the capability of a much larger footprint.”

When the contingency response teams arrived in Puerto Rico, they immediately hit the ground running standing up their base of operations, which includes setting up command and control and the tactical operations center so the team could start tracking aircraft in and out. The teams also deployed their small-package communication elements, which allow voice and internet communications to supporting units.

The 621st CRW forces are part of the larger Defense Department response to support authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, to protect the lives and safety of those in affected areas.

The role of CR forces during this disaster relief mission is to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities to deliver assistance and aid in the relief efforts as directed in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In many cases, the CRW is one of the first units to arrive to the disaster locations.

The 821st CRG also has an airfield assessment team deployed to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, to assess runways and ensure aircraft can safely operate from airfields on the island.

This is the first time ever the 821st CRG has been tasked to open three different airfields simultaneously.

“Working three airfields simultaneously means we’re prepared,” said Col. Tommy Seeker, senior airfield authority at Roosevelt Roads. “The current crisis requires a group of professionals trained to respond with little notice ready to begin operating immediately after arriving into a complex situation.”

According to FEMA officials, the teams are working with various partners to provide lifesaving and life-sustainment resources to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while aggressively working to restore power and communications, and reestablish port operability to allow increased access for additional commodities and personnel into disaster affected areas.

Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, contingency response element commander at the airfield in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, had only recently brought his 64 member team home from Florida hurricane relief operations when they were called back out to Puerto Rico.

“Having seen one community devastated by a hurricane, we reset as quickly as possible to be ready to assist in Puerto Rico,” Baker said. “There is no mission more impactful than assisting fellow Americans in need, and contingency response forces are uniquely suited to respond rapidly.”

As supplies continue to arrive, CR Airmen operate the airfields, offload the cargo, move it to a staging area and prepare it for forward distribution to FEMA staging locations across the island.

“This is what we train for,” Berger said. “Throughout the year, we participate in exercises like Mobility Guardian which hone our ability to rapidly deploy to austere locations. When the time arrives, our Airmen will integrate with the local population and the other military branches to get the job done.”

While the teams are in Puerto Rico they will be working hand-in-hand with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to provide humanitarian relief; whether it be offloading cargo from an Air Force C-5 Galaxy or Army helicopters delivering medical supplies to local communities.

“While operating out of the airfields here, we will provide the joint forces land component commander with strategic and tactical options,” Seeker said. “Because Puerto Rico is an island, the initial relief efforts must be airlifted in until seaports are opened and land routes on the island are cleared of debris.”

“From our locations we can receive relief supplies, load them directly onto flatbed trucks, and allow FEMA to coordinate the distribution with local communities,” Seeker continued. “The Airmen of the 621st CRW are currently working three out of the four airfields that are necessary to facilitate these forward distribution point operations.”

Berger went on to say CR forces continue do everything to help get the support and resources out to the communities as soon as possible, as directed by FEMA and U.S. Northern Command.