DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del.-- Members of the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 436th Aerial Port Squadron participated in a first-of-its-kind, week-long Civil Reserve Air Fleet individual protective equipment readiness exercise Nov. 13 to 17, 2017.
The 436th LRS on Dover AFB is the only repository for CRAF IPE gear in the Department of Defense, and is responsible for distributing the protective gear to locations where CRAF aircrews may be subjected to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats.
According to the Air Mobility Command CRAF fact sheet, selected aircraft from U.S. airlines, contractually committed to CRAF, augment Department of Defense airlift requirements in emergencies when the need for airlift exceeds the capability of military airlift.
“CRAF is a unique program,” said Master Sgt. David Hawksley, Headquarters AMC CRAF logistics superintendent. “It’s a ‘what-if’ program designed for when we can’t make ends meet, but we’re doing everything we can to not activate CRAF.”
In fact, in the 66 years of the program, CRAF has only activated twice, once during Operation Desert Storm and a second time during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During these two instances, CRAF aircrews accounted for 93 percent of passenger transportation and 37 percent of the total cargo delivered.
“So far to date, we’ve been able to meet the DOD’s needs through contracts,” Hawksley said. “It’s thanks to the outstanding volunteerism from our civilian partners that we haven’t had to stand up CRAF. Every challenge that’s come has been met with unparalleled commitment. The CRAF program is for the day when that’s no longer enough.”
While the civilian air transportation companies continually fill every offered contract, the CRAF program is still a backup for the day the needs cannot be met. The Air Force has maintained readiness for the CRAF program even though it hasn’t activated since 2003.
Part of that readiness is maintaining IPE for CRAF aircrews. When military members fly downrange, they are issued their own IPE from the home station, but how would that work for civilian aircrews?
Hawksley said the civilian counterparts wouldn’t be sent into actively hostile areas, but today, CBRN threats have a longer reach and more countries have access to them than during the time of CRAF’s inception. A destination considered to be safe can be easily reached by any manner of long-range weapons relatively quickly, thus necessitating preparedness.
Last year, when Lt. Col. Todd Walker, 436th LRS commander, asked Hawksley if Team Dover could exercise the CRAF IPE distribution process, it got the wheels rolling.
“Our current posture is ensuring our Airmen are ready to meet the mission in a very changing global environment,” Walker said. “Our ability to ensure Rapid Global Reach is directly tied to our ability to train and equip our Airmen. CRAF takes that a step further, as we are now equipping our civilian counterparts as they defend freedom alongside our Airmen.”
The exercise kicked off that Monday morning. IPE staff received a shipment invoice for 1,248 full sets of IPE – pants, jackets, glove liners, gloves, boots and gas masks – in specific sizes to be sent to two different locations.
Immediately, the team suited up, strapped in and began moving pallets of gear. They counted each piece and maintained 100 percent accountability.
Then members of the 436th APS came over to the IPE warehouse and built the pallets. When each pallet was built, it was moved over to the Super Port to be weighed and stored until the flight.
While this particular exercise did not call for actually loading the freight onto aircraft and flying the IPE to a destination, members of the 436th APS work at the Department of Defense’s largest aerial port, so they are very familiar with this task.
The IPE was returned to the IPE warehouse Thursday, where each and every piece of equipment was recounted, re-boxed and re-shelved.
“This is the first time we’ve had an exercise like this, and we knocked it out of the park,” said Tech. Sgt. Deanna Parsons, 436th LRS NCO in charge of IPE. “Everyone in IPE did their job flawlessly and we worked hand-in-hand with the folks at APS. This exercise strengthened our teamwork and it showed us a few areas where we could improve. We do this on a day-to-day basis, but not at this magnitude, so by executing this task efficiently, we proved we’ll be ready if we ever need to act.”
After the exercise, Hawksley sat down with exercise participants and members of the Wing Inspection Team to discuss how the exercise went.
One of the key take-aways was improving the notification process. There are very strict timelines for meeting CRAF IPE requirements. In one phase of CRAF deployment, IPE must be delivered downrange within 24 hours of CRAF activation. Thus, any delays in the notification process could drastically impact Team Dover’s ability to meet this fixed deadline.
Another concept the Hawksley’s team is now exploring is issuing CRAF aircrews IPE at their originating installation and then back-filling that installation’s IPE supplies from Team Dover’s CRAF IPE repository.
Both of the major observances from this exercise require thought and implementation at the headquarters level, but they could significantly impact the CRAF IPE distribution process.
“Everyone here did an outstanding job,” Hawksley said. “Each of the individual components did a very good job that contributed to overall execution. The Airmen of Dover should be proud of what they bring to the fight day in and day out. I sure am.”