Three U.S. Air Force Airmen made final preparations for a 37th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules aircraft out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to drop 16 Polish special forces members at an abandoned runway near Biala Podlaska, Poland, during Aviation Detachment Rotation 21-4 last month.
This operation is the culmination of precision work to secure a drop zone and landing zone with the Polish special forces, executed by a cross-functional, rapidly deployable U.S. Air Force team designed to assess and open airbases and perform initial airfield operations enabling rapid standup of combat operations anywhere.
“We go in light, and when the operation is done, we can get out quick,” said Tech Sgt. James Supernault, 435th Contingency Response Group air traffic controller. “This is why our team exists.”
Supernault and his team provide operational guidance on this competency to Polish special forces members as they demonstrate their ability to open an airfield, off load assets and prepare a rapid and safe departure of aircraft.
“We are still in the process of building the combat controller competency in the Polish military,” said Lucas, Polish special forces combat controller section commander. “This exercise gives us an opportunity to learn and share information.”
The 435th CRG team can assess the validity of an airfield anywhere, and the work starts far before the team receives their first aircraft.
“Before we get to a location, we look at imagery and prior surveys for anything that may present big issues to our aircraft or personnel,” said Tech Sgt. Benjamin Stewart, a 435th Contingency Response Group airfield manager. “When we arrive on location, we get eyes on and assess anything that could pose a safety hazard.”
The team assesses both the safety above and below the ground.
“As an engineer, I inspect landing zones by testing for weak surface areas and ensure gradients are within tolerance so that aircraft can safely conduct operations,” said Staff Sgt. Cody Paynter, 435th Contingency Response Group engineer. “If the surface is strong enough, and there are no obstructions, we can land an aircraft anywhere.”
As a three-man team, Supernault, Stewart and Paynter, shared their knowledge with Polish special forces members, and successfully secured both the landing zone and drop zone for this exercise.
“My mission and responsibility as an air traffic controller is to ensure the safety of arriving and departing aircraft, while expediting the flow of air traffic,” said Supernault. “Additionally, I am responsible for the safety of personnel and equipment being dropped and that they drop in the correct location. Each time we come to Poland, Polish forces increase their capabilities, and I’m here on the ground with them to make sure everything goes seamlessly.”
The interoperability between U.S. and Polish forces continues to play an important role in NATO mission readiness.
“This exercise is a chance to build our self-confidence and our breadth of knowledge about combat control work,” Lucas said. “We have the opportunity to learn from the best teachers, because the U.S. is the world leader in this kind of work. For us, any contact during a live exercise to improve tactics and to conduct runway operations, including safely landing an aircraft, is exactly what we’re looking for.”
Aviation Detachment Rotations are bilateral training exercises and deployments designed to enhance partner interoperability, maintain joint readiness, and assure our regional allies. These events occur across the U.S. European Command area of responsibility, and U.S. aircraft and Airmen have participated in these rotations since 2012.