Answering the call: 5th MOB there in face of tragedy

  • Published
  • By Brian Shreve
  • Robins Public Affairs
The 5th Combat Communications Group is known for its versatile, rapid and integral brand of emergency response, regardless of location and circumstances.

That's why it was no wonder they were some of the first called when disaster struck in a heavily forested, mountainous region in western Virginia on Aug. 27.

As the media reported news of the F-15C mishap in which Lt. Col. Morris Fotenot, Jr. - a decorated Air Force combat veteran - was killed, the 5th CCG, known more commonly as the 5th MOB, had no time to waste.

One of the group's three Hammer Adaptive Communications Element special purpose communications teams was packed and out the door, arriving at the site, and fully operational within 24 hours.

In other words, in typical Hammer ACE fashion, they were more than ready when the call came from Air Force Space Command.

But, that's what they're known for.

"We did what we always do," said Master Sgt. Thomas Williams, flight chief of special missions. "We were contacted to go out and provide initial communications to the site and to the safety board president and back out to the Department of Defense."

Hammer ACE's Team 2 - comprised of Tech. Sgt. Mark Marberg, team leader, Staff Sgt. Andrew Hodges and Senior Airman Jacob Stamper, both Hammer ACE operators - will remain at the site anywhere from two weeks to 40 days, depending on the length of the investigation.

"We were paying close attention to this aircraft mishap," said Williams. "It's obviously something that falls into our purview; so, when we were notified for deployment, it was not necessarily a surprise. From phone call to execution, we were there in a matter of hours."

The team traveled by government vehicle to the site at George Washington National Park near the West Virginia border to save the time and for greater versatility, Williams said.

Because of the remoteness of the site, vital communications would have been nearly impossible without Hammer ACE, he added.

The team set up its entire mobile system which includes tents equipped with power generation, and both secure and non-secure Internet, phones, various radio and satellite communications, and television capabilities so the on-scene commander could follow what news agencies were reporting about the mission.

"It's not like you have a building with air-conditioning and power," said Williams. "We bring those things so they can have their office in the field while they're conducting their investigation. That way they can be as close to the incident site as practical."

Before this deployment to Virginia, Hammer ACE's last high-profile mission was its response to Hurricane Sandy two years ago.

Though the 5th MOB turned 50 years old this year, Hammer ACE in particular dates back to the mid-1980s, when it was established to respond specifically to nuclear incidents in which secure military communications were crucial.

Since then, it has served as a quick-response unit for a range of catastrophic events, from natural disasters and Defense Department aircraft accidents to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-explosive - CBRNE - missions. Though the 5th MOB handles global communications requirements, Hammer ACE provides assistance for incidents around North America.

"They're out there doing exactly what they're trained to do and exactly what is expected of them," said Williams.

"Every one assigned here is hand-selected," he added. "When we send them out, we have every confidence they're going to completely exceed the expectations of whoever they're supporting.

"They're the best of the best."