Base unit prepped to assist in disaster relief

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
When the call comes, the 5th Combat Communications Group at Robins stands ready to get the job done.

Members of the 51st Combat Communications Squadron received word June 27 their assistance may be needed with wildfire relief efforts in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Within 24 hours, the unit had packed five flatbed tractor trailers filled with 123,000 pounds of satellite communications; voice, data and networking equipment; and other items, for the three- to five-day trip.

The squadron, which falls under the 5th CCG, includes more than 150 personnel trained to respond at a moment's notice to not only any military tasking anywhere in the world, but also natural disasters and other contingencies around the globe.

The unit responded with aid to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, and to the Caribbean following the earthquake in Haiti.

A team of 20 to 30 individuals were on call last week through Monday.

"This is where the rubber meets the road," said Tech Sgt. Jay Pirnie, 51st CBCS radio frequency transmission systems supervisor. "What the 5th CCG is able to provide to that fight is information dissemination."

The group's rapid-response capabilities provide communications needed for command and control anytime, anywhere.

"We can basically set up an entire base on an empty field in a matter of days," said Senior Airman Kevin Summers, who works with 51st CBCS radio frequency transmissions.

For this mission, the team would provide such capabilities as ground radio communication between firefighters and various agencies, and air-to-ground communication for planes flying overhead performing water drops.

Training hard on a daily basis and knowing the job makes the ability to respond within 72 hours seem like second nature. Take, for instance, the idea of packing pallets on multiple trucks in just under one day.

What allows the 5th CCG to react swiftly is repetition through training in building pallets.

"Everyone knows what piece of equipment needs to go in which box," explained Pirnie. "It's the amount of repetition, job and system knowledge that all of the airmen, staff sergeants, tech sergeants and other enlisted of the 51st CBCS and 5th CCG carry with them. That's part of the warrior mentality - we're capable of deploying quickly and are able to do it efficiently."

Once on site and all services are operational, it only takes a few crew members to keep things running smoothly.

"This opens up manpower for any other tasking," said Pirnie.

Although stationed at Robins, the 5th CCG falls under Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Four Air Force C-130s were dispatched last week to provide fire suppression capabilities in Colorado. Those planes are equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, which can discharge 3,000 gallons of fire retardant or water, weighing 28,000 pounds, in less than five seconds.

According to U.S. Northern Command (the Department of Defense organization which provides civil support), all eight C-130 aircraft from Reserve and National Guard units in Wyoming, California, North Carolina and Colorado were activated beginning June 30 to assist with firefighting efforts. This was the first time all eight have been used since 2008.

The U.S. Forest Service, which owns the MAFFS equipment, has dropped more than 170,000 gallons of fire retardant on the Waldo Canyon and Flagstaff fires in Colorado, Arapaho fire in Wyoming and White Draw fire in South Dakota as of July 1, according to USNORTHCOM.