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On your MARRC, get sat, ERO!

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carlos Trevino
  • 433 Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The first thing most visitors to the coastal city of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, known for golf and surfing, do is check into their hotel, then hit the beach or go salsa dancing.

Instead of enjoying local cuisine, like the plantain based dishes of mofongo and tostones , members of the 433rd Airlift Control Flight and 74th Aerial Port Squadron, along with their vehicles and assets, rapidly shuffled off a C-5 to begin operations to receive and launch aircraft during Patriot Hoover. The ALCF started their trip to this tropical paradise by setting up their base of operations called a MARRC, or Mobile Airfield Radio Reporting Communication shelter.

Airmen got off the plane and immediately began unloading with a sense of purpose. In less than 12 hours a KC-135, C-17s, and C-130s would begin landing with FBI Rapid Deployment Teams. The ALCF is a self contained unit and all the pieces had to be in place before the FBI RDTs arrived.

"Flexibility is important because every mission is different," said Tech. Sgt. Bernalhee McFadden, who has been doing this job for six years and is now training others in the unit.

McFadden was proud of Senior Airman Ebony Robinson, who stepped out of her usual role in personnel support control operations in the MARRC, to learn how to start a load bank on a generator and marshalled two C-17s as they prepared for takeoff.

"She did very well," a proud Sergeant McFadden said.

"You've got to run," she said of the swiftly changing role ALCF Airmen fill on an active airfield.

This is not a spring break sojourn; it is a test of professional military skills. Patriot Hoover is a four-day joint exercise involving the FBI's RDTs, the Air Force Reserve, the Puerto Rico Air National Guard and the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. The exercise focused on activation and deployment of FBI assets in response to an act of terrorism against U.S. interest overseas, read an FBI press release.

The 433rd ALCF is under the direction of Maj. Gordon Griggs. His team comprises 26 members who went through an interview process to join this unit, according to Senior Master Scott Bishop. The ALCF was sent to train and test their skills on the old Ramey Air Force Base. Ramey, which based B-52 bombers closed in 1973 and is now Rafael Hernandez Airport and features the longest runway in the Caribbean.

Like a coach going into a big game with an untested team, Major Griggs was concerned about some of his new Airmen on their first mission. But admitted the exercise was essential to their career progress.

"The more we do, the more prepared in real life," he said as the team rushed to get set up before inclement weather rolled in.

Heavy pickup trucks, loaded with member's luggage, a 10K forklift, generators, metal cargo containers and firefighting equipment were offloaded from the C-5 as dark clouds entered the area. The first Airmen to get to work were the 74th APS and aerospace ground equipment technicians. Airmen from AGE and the APS squadrons offloaded and towed light producing equipment into position. Under the light of a rising new moon, AGE troops coaxed sputtering light units to life, illuminating the work area.

Next was the MARRC. Carefully pulling the MARRC off the C-5, communication troops towed it to its operating location. Because it houses delicate electronic equipment, the MARRC cannot be towed any faster than 3 miles per hour.

Once parked, the MARRC began to unfold like a machine from the movie Transformers. Communication airmen donned their hard hats, climbed on and transformed the MARRC from a metal box to a hub for connectivity. They rapidly opened cargo containers and set up satellite phone communications.

"Typically you give yourself four hours, with daylight, to set up the MARRC," said Major Griggs. "We attacked the MARRC, it was set up in three with external lighting. It was extraordinary under the circumstances."

"It was rewarding. You learn more than on a typical UTA (Unit Training Assembly) weekend, it was good training," said Staff Sgt. Michael Lewis, a ground radio maintenance technician. "We had 2-3 new members to the unit, next time we will be able to set it up faster."

Odd looking antennae added to the mystery, and purpose, of this square shelter with tinted windows. The antennas on a MARRC help ground personnel communicate with aircraft, each other by radio and satellite phone and enables internet connections. Connectivity is important for a variety of purposes like gathering weather data. Like Texas weather, the forecast in a tropical area can rapidly change.

Some of the C-130s and C-17s would perform engine running offloads. Performing an ERO means the aircraft's engines are running as aerial porters unload cargo and passengers in a matter of minutes. This ensures the plane takes off within a half hour, on time to fulfill exercise requirements. The planes would then return to the continental U.S., pick up another RDT team, based in Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, or New York City, and return to ERO again. The ALCF was responsible for launching four sorties using C-130s from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

"The FBI's four Rapid Deployment Teams conducted 13 training missions with the 433rd ALCF during a four day period," said FBI spokeswoman, Mary Krauss. "This training opportunity was invaluable to the FBI and was greatly enhanced by the interaction and training provided by the 433rd ALCF."

FBI personnel were taught by 74th APS Airmen how to move and secure their cargo as it was loaded on aircraft.

"This was a great opportunity for the 74th Aerial Port Squadron in receiving a real world active duty tasking," said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Pacheco. "The 74th members were asked to prepare all cargo and accomplish all required documentation for air shipments. They were outstanding and their flexibility overcame all work-related scenarios associated with the mission."

In addition to FBI and Air Force assets, the exercise also included blended teams from the Puerto Rico Army and Air National Guard units.

"They are professional military," said Major Griggs. "Army firefighters were excited to see a C-5 for the first time and become familiar with egress chopping points."

Major Griggs also credited the Puerto Rico Air National Guard for providing 24-hour security for the airfield. Another aspect of the exercise was the practice drill of the 394th Quartermaster Battalion of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. The Soldiers practiced loading an empty casket onto and off of a C-17 and C-5 aircraft. Providing dignity to fallen heroes is a task that is taken very seriously by all involved. The solemn practice helped the Army Guard prepare should they ever provide transfer honors to one of the fallen.

The blending of training opportunities for all involved increased the tempo and realism during Patriot Hoover. The mission ended with the 433rd ALCF completing launch and recovery for 17 sorties and each agency partner practicing needed skills should a terrorist attack ever occur. At the conclusion of the exercise, Major Griggs was very satisfied

"This was the most successful mission I've been on," said Major Griggs. "The ops tempo was robust. It felt like a large exercise."

The 433rd ALCF successfully closed Patriot Hoover 2009 in Puerto Rico on May 4. THey also came home knowing they can perform their mission, even in paradise.