Air mobility crisis staff responds to disasters, war

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
  • 18th Air Force Public Affairs
Running the Air Force's global mobility enterprise day-to-day is a huge undertaking to begin with, so when a crisis strikes that requires a large mobility effort, the Air Mobility Command and 18th Air Force need a tool that lets them focus on that crisis.

The crisis battle staff is a collection of experts drawn from across AMC and 18th AF that activates on a round-the-clock basis to address a specific crisis.

"The crisis in question can be of any nature from response to a natural disaster to nuclear war," said Maj. Daniel Ortwerth, the CBS manager. "The staff includes representatives from every directorate or special staff agency. It focuses only on the crisis, and its sole purpose is to assist the commander with his decision-making process and issuance of well-crafted orders to set mobility Air Force assets into motion in response to the crisis."

The CBS is an integral part of how AMC and 18th AF respond to crises. Mark Johnson, the 18th AF CBS manager, said the staff provides four main functions: information management, battle rhythm management, joint operational-level planning, and external communications.

"The CBS is the focal point for all operations during a contingency," Johnson explained. "Every organization has unique functions and roles that contribute to the operational mission. Crisis, contingency, exercise, and wartime operations require increased attention and timely response to support the commander's decision cycle."

For the most part, the CBS's role doesn't change from incident to incident, Ortwerth said. Whether the scenario is a hurricane or a war, the functions and processes remain the same.

"The core processes and methods of the CBS bend and flex as necessary to properly address the subject matter at hand," Ortwerth said.

A good example of this ability to flex, Ortwerth said, was when the CBS was activated to handle two simultaneous events in 2014 -- the beginning of a large-scale homeland defense exercise and the start of Operation Unified Assistance, the U.S. response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

"The CBS was scheduled to activate for the exercise on a Monday," Ortwerth said. "However, with no notice, it was ordered into activation the previous Wednesday for Operation United Assistance. Not only was the activation a surprise, but the two subjects could not have been more fundamentally different."

Ortwerth said that despite the challenges the scenarios presented, the CBS adjusted to meet the needs of both operations.

"With the help of the CBS managers, the freshly activated CBS members gathered the information available, used whatever means proved effective, assigned specialists to different aspects of the dual challenge, and got the essential information flowing to two sets of commanders," he said. "We set up two separate but coordinated battle rhythms, with their own briefing types and locations, and made it happen."

Johnson said the CBS has to be ready to respond to any contingency on a moment's notice.

"The CBS spends the majority of the time in a warm status which constitutes initial and continuous training, information management, and regular equipment checks and upgrades to insure readiness in preparation for activation," Johnson said. "The design of the team is to be fully functional within an hour after a recall to support the 18th AF commander's effort to provide guidance and orders to the mobility Air Force enterprise."

Because it can be called into action so quickly, Ortwerth said it's important to exercise the CBS and those who work in it regularly.

"CBS duty is entirely outside the bounds of the normal jobs and processes of the people who serve on it," Ortwerth explained. "We are pulling these people away from their day jobs and throwing them into a set of duties for which they've received training, but just basic training. At the same time, we are making them perform in a crisis, which adds pressure and criticality to the situation. We don't want CBS members to be learning on the job.

“CBS exercises enable them to make the valuable mistakes that facilitate learning in a training environment -- the way it is supposed to work. That's why we train for any job, but this one in particular simply cannot afford to be treated lightly."

Col. Constance Jenkins, the AMC Reserve advisor to the director of logistics, engineering and force protection, had never worked in the CBS before reporting as its dayshift director during a recent homeland defense exercise. She said she was impressed by how everything worked.

"It was humbling and inspiring to watch the dedication and efforts put forth by so many people to make the mission a success," she said. "It was an incredible learning experience for me."

One of the things Jenkins learned was the key to the staff’s success.

"The strength of the CBS during a crisis lies in the matrixed staff," Jenkins said. "The leveraging of subject matter experts in the matrixed staff affords utilizations of depth and breadth of knowledge that is unmatched in a smaller group of people. This reach-back for subject matter expertise into every directorate in AMC allows leadership to make judicious, timely data-rich decisions."

Jenkins said at the end of the day, it's the people that make the biggest difference.

"Having a strong cadre of subject matter experts creates a situation whereby everyone is heard and key information is shared in a timely manner," she said. "The matrixed staff ensures visibility of the 'what if' questions that sometimes get missed during the time crunch of a crisis. This allows as many of the key data points as possible to be on the table during decision making efforts."