Patriot Sands

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. – For Senior Airman Tyler Hazel, opportunities with Patriot Sands don’t happen very often. So, the young aerial porter was grateful to face the challenges of a contingency response exercise. For starters, the trip south out of Westover had Hazel and the load team securing some 44,000 pounds of cargo. More than 30 other Airmen joined Hazel on the vast flight line of a sister Air Force Reserve base for a week of hard work amid Florida’s renowned sunshine in early March. “I’m just glad to be here -- just to be able to break away and come do this,” he said. Back home, Hazel is assigned to the 58th Aerial Port Squadron. During Patriot Sands, he became part of an efficient contingency response team. Patriot Sands allowed the reservist to gain valuable upgrade training that’s crucial for career progression. Once on the ground in Florida March 6, the Airmen quickly set up their “mini-base” aligned with a transient parking area at Homestead, which -- like Westover – included a massive flight line, once home to the Strategic Air Command’s fleets of B-47 and B-52 bombers. In a matter of minutes, the ALCF Airmen had the HELAMS unit -- the centerpiece of the exercise -- assembled. HELAMS, which stands for hardside expandable light air mobile shelter, is a 14,000-pound self-contained command post that can be airlifted anywhere in the world. The HELAMS became part an operational airfield within hours. Lt. Col. Rick Kuehn, contingency response commander, explained the exercise had a two-fold focus: one aim was to train the Air Force’s affiliates and ensure they’re air mobility-ready; the second was to deploy the Air Force’s command and control capability. By March 10, Kuehn said, it was clear the CRE members met both those objectives. The Airmen supported 26 C-17 and C-130 missions into and out of Homestead, said Maj. Shirley Whitney, 439th ALCF commander.Aircraft shuttled other federal and state agencies (including the FBI, FEMA, and the Coast Guard) to nearby MacDill AFB in Ta m p a . While many junior enlisted Airmen gained valuable experience here, senior leadership got it too -- with a fellow ALCF to boot. Back home, Kuehn commands the 452nd Air Mobility Wing’s airlift control flight at March ARB, Calif. He and Whitney teamed up to lead the exercise. “We work with our affiliates and help them practice uploading their equipment,” Whitney said. “Before they even came out here, we held a class and helped train Airmen on load planning. Then we bring them out on the exercise so they have the opportunity to practice what they learned in class. And we have an opportunity to exercise our UTCs (unit type codes). There’s training for both.” There were veterans who helped the less- experienced troops. Tech. Sgt. Lui Puga , communications technician, has been with the ALCF for 16 years. He’s served on at least two exercises per y e ar. “These exercises generate camaraderie with other Airmen in other units,” he said. “And our ALCF Airmen get proficiency training.” Puga’s communications section quickly set up radar, telephone, and land mobile radios to help ensure the exercise began s m o o t h l y. “COMM is vital when it comes to what we’re doing here,” Puga said. “ We need to have the ability to talk with the aircraft, but we also need to air-to- ground . We ensure Westover is talking with [ Joint Base] Charleston and AMC [Air Mobility Command) headquarters. We’re pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to operations.” While Puga’s COMM section has seven Airmen assigned , several other units traveled to Homestead . They included airfield management, aerial port, loadmasters, PERSCO, aerospace ground equipment, and command post. The Air Force Reser ve Command has operated Homestead since 1992, following the devastation of Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane that inflicted severe damage to most of the former Air Combat Command fighter base in August 1992. Though smaller than when it was an active-duty base, Homestead’s runway and flight line bustled with the host 482nd Fighter Wing’s frequent roar of departing F-16 Fighting Falcons, as well as the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team which practiced overhead throughout the week. “Despite all the challenges we had with funding …. we did a phenomenal job,” Kuehn said. “Our team is absolutely outstanding.”