Pacific Lifeline provides ALCF crucial training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nick Przybyciel
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The fourteen Reservists supporting Pacific Lifeline as part of the 446th Airlift Control Flight package couldn't ask for a sweeter deal.

For one, there's the exercise location - Hawaii. After being deprived of sunlight for months in the notoriously gray Pacific Northwest winter, any chance to head to a tropical location and dry off for a bit is undoubtedly a welcome reprieve. But, more importantly, this group of expeditionary Airmen is looking forward to the rare opportunity to practice like they're designed to play.

Pacific Lifeline is a total force exercise running Jan. 26-Feb. 9, designed to exercise the military's ability to rapidly deploy a trained, equipped team anywhere in the Pacific in response to a humanitarian assistance or disaster scenario. Approximately 900 Department of Defense personnel will participate in the 13th Air Force-led exercise, including about 145 Reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing, McChord AFB.

Comprised of Airmen spanning nine Air Force Specialty Codes and possessing the ability deploy anywhere in the world within 36 hours, the ALCF acts as a mobile command post and logistical support unit. Whether setting up a flightline, tracking air assets, or booking lodging for incoming personnel, the ALCF ensures air operations can begin at even the most remote airfield.

And, they typically do this with only 16 Airmen.

"Each person in the ALCF wears about four or five hats," said Master Sgt. Tom Martin, the senior Air Reserve Technician in the 446th ALCF.

Sergeant Martin has worked in the ALCF as an airfield manager since 1997, ensuring runways are properly setup and safe enough to handle cargo aircraft. But like every member of the ALCF, his level of responsibility extends beyond his Air Force Specialty Code. Certified to deploy in a command position, Sergeant Martin has the authority of a commissioned officer in certain deployment scenarios.

Since the War on Terror kicked off, Sergeant Martin said that training opportunities like Pacific Lifeline are few and far between. While the ALCF has had the opportunity to train and occasionally deploy in a smaller package, its full capability has rarely been tested.

Even though the ALCF is not deploying a full package of 16 Airmen, Pacific Lifeline provides the 14 Reservists who are going a rare experience - the opportunity to function independently at the airfield they're flying missions out of.

"For some of our Airmen, this will be the first time they see how the ALCF is designed to function in the real world. We will be able to run the airfield the way we want to run it, and that's a huge concession from our Navy hosts," Sergeant Martin said.

Senior Airman Misty Croft is one of the ALCF's newbies looking forward to gaining that type of experience from Pacific Lifeline. An operations specialist, Airman Croft works in the command post, tracking aircraft and coordinating mission movements. She joined the ALCF 11 months ago, mainly because of the opportunities for deployments that are inherent to the job.

Although Airman Croft already deployed with the ALCF for an exercise in San Diego, this will be the first time she will work separate from the host airfield's operations folks.

"I'm really looking forward to getting more experience. In San Diego, we weren't completely independent (from the hosts)," Airman Croft said.

This type of experience is crucial, as a lot of real-world scenarios find the ALCF deploying to airfields where there is absolutely no support structure in place, Sergeant Martin said.

Sergeant Martin has been engaged in a year-long dialogue with the hosts in order to come to an agreement that maintained the ALCF's independence from the operations element at Navy airfield at Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range, Hawaii.

"You ask for the moon and settle for the stars," he said with a laugh.

Since the size of Barking Sands is relatively small when it comes to handling the necessities of combat airlift, Sergeant Martin didn't get everything he hoped for: A maintenance support team couldn't be included in the package, and the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft being used for the air operations will have to fly to nearby Hickam AFB at the end of each day's operations.

"It's a burden for an airspace that's use to dealing with C-21s and helicopters to have Big Burtha sitting on the flight line," Sergeant Martin said in reference to the enormous C-17s. "The Navy's being very gracious."

Sergeant Martin went on to say that all the concessions were small and well worth it, in order for his team to maintain the autonomy necessary for the exercise to mimic reality. When an actual emergency happens, people's lives may depend on how effectively the ALCF operates; making every experience these Airmen receive priceless.