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Airmen jump in, prepare airfield in northern Iraq

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Mindy Patrick (left) and Maj. Darrin Ott, of the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group environmental medicine flight, take water samples for testing from a reverse osmosis treatment operation near an airfield in Northern Iraq on April 1.  Based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the unit's mission is to secure and prepare an airfield for flight operations.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rich Puckett)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Master Sgt. Mindy Patrick (left) and Maj. Darrin Ott, of the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group environmental medicine flight, take water samples for testing from a reverse osmosis treatment operation near an airfield in Northern Iraq on April 1. Based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the unit's mission is to secure and prepare an airfield for flight operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rich Puckett)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Senior Airman Mitchell Yang, 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group, prepares for his jump into Northern Iraq March 27 with paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy.  Based at Ramstein Air Base Germany, the unit’s mission is to secure and prepare an airfield for flight operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rich Puckett)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Senior Airman Mitchell Yang, 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group, prepares for his jump into Northern Iraq March 27 with paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy. Based at Ramstein Air Base Germany, the unit’s mission is to secure and prepare an airfield for flight operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rich Puckett)

OPERATION IRAQ FREEDOM (AFPN) -- As part of what may be the largest airborne assault since D-Day, 20 airmen of the 86th Contingency Response Group parachuted into northern Iraq on March 27 with more than 1,000 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The people who jumped into Iraq comprised a team of specialists from the intelligence, medical, communications, security, aerial port, engineer and fuels career fields. Their skills helped prepare the airfield for the C-17 Globemaster IIIs that now deliver more than 1 million pounds of people and cargo every night.

The rapid pace of the deployment and the nature of the mission required the teamwork of both soldiers and airmen, according to Col. Steve Weart, the group's commander.

"It was important to insert the (group) with the airborne brigade so we could assess the airfield and operating environment as quickly as possible," said Weart, who earned his first combat jump here and has 29 jumps to his credit.

The 86th CRG, based out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is one of three Air Force units established for contingency operations. The group is a rapid-response unit designed to deploy anywhere at a moment's notice. It specializes in airlift command and control, mobile aerial port operations, force protection, forward area medical operations, humanitarian aid and communications.

"I was excited about the jump," said Staff Sgt. Damian Spaits, patrol master with the 786th Security Forces Squadron at Sembach AB, Germany, who has 34 jumps under his belt. "This is the type of mission we've been training for."

"All I could hear was the rush of air as I got up to the door and jumped," said 1st Lt. Jarrett Lee, a 786th Security Forces Squadron intelligence officer. "I hit the ground and immediately gathered my gear and sloshed my way through the knee-deep mud to the rally point."

After the rest of the team hit the ground, they gathered to begin preparing the airfield.

"Once we rallied together, we first made sure everyone was safe," said Maj. Erik Rundquist, defense-force commander for the 86th deployment. "Then we cleared the runway of debris, sent out a reconnaissance team and secured the airfield."

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