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Testing our ability to stand up

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A U.S. Air Force maintenance Airman and an F-15C Eagle pilot have a discussion prior to takeoff Dec. 5, 2017, at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea during Exercise Vigilant Ace-18. The main purpose of this US-ROK combined exercise is to enhance operational- and tactical-level coordination through combined and joint combat training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristen A. Heller)

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A U.S. Air Force maintenance Airman marshalls a F-15C Eagle for takeoff Dec. 5, 2017, at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea during Exercise Vigilant Ace-18. Exercise Vigilant Ace-18 is an annual exercise designed to enhance the interoperability of U.S. and ROK Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristen A. Heller)

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U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen gather to prepare a F-15C Eagle for takeoff Dec. 5, 2017, at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea during Exercise Vigilant Ace-18.Vigilant Ace gives aircrews and air support operations personnel from various airframes, military services and ROK partners an opportunity to integrate and practice combat operations against realistic air and ground threats.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristen A. Heller)

GWANGJU AIR BASE, South Korea -- In the midst of the Vigilant Ace-18 exercise, some may be asking why Gwangju Air Base? As Republic of Korea Air Base, Gwangju is usually a ghost town for United States Forces. Kunsan or Osan, both U.S. air bases, would have been much more accommodating and easily inhabited for a tiring week of exercising.

That’s just it though, Gwangju offers an additional element to the annual exercise; it allows U.S. Forces to test their ability to stand up a base from bare bones and have it become fully functioning and operational.

Standing up a base in a short matter of time is often a task that can be overlooked or forgotten altogether. The main body of personnel arrives and the exercise begins, but in this instance a small team starts working before most even begin packing their bags. 
Standing up a base from scratch and immediately moving into an exercise tests the capabilities U.S. forces have regardless of where they are and what conditions they’re in. 

“It’s always good to test our agility or ability to employ and deploy from any location,” said 18th Wing Command Chief, Michael Ditore from Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The 607th Material Maintenance Squadron from Daegu Air Base, Korea, did exactly that. With their main responsibility of feeding and bedding down U.S. forces at Gwangju, the squadron faced many challenges but still managed to overcome them, explained, Tech. Sgt. Katelina Tiumala.

Normally, there are dorms available for routine TDYs, however over 75 percent of those dorms are currently under construction, an unexpected factor in the standing up of the base resulting in limited bed down spaces. 

“We’ve been planning Vigilant Ace since September [to] October with 7th Air Force and other participating units, so it definitely took a lot of planning from each section; we faced some unique challenges when we hit the ground,” Tiumala said. “A lot of the things that were planned didn’t occur as expected but it was an eye opener.”

By working with Republic of Korea Air Force counterparts, Tiumala was able to use two ROKAF dormitories to bed down some U.S. Forces, enabling the squadron to fulfill that capability. 

Not only did the 607th MMS provide exercise participants a place to sleep, but also a place to eat. 

The squadron turned an inoperable dining facility into one serving two hot meals a day, meals-ready-to-eat for lunch and even a midnight meal for those working later shifts.

Gwangju is one of four collocated operating bases that Daegu AB can deploy from, another reason to ensure assets are good-to-go and maintained throughout the year, Tiumala explained. 

“It is an opportunity to exercise at a location that is not an established U.S. base,” said Brig. Gen. Case Cunningham, 18th Wing Commander, Kadena AB. “So the agility piece of airpower – we get to exercise that while building solid relationships with our ROK partners here.”

With minimum manning, Tiumala learned flexibility is the key to success.

“For us to perform bed down, feeding, off-loading water – preparing everything in the services realm to get the base ready –you definitely need manning to support that,” she said.

Despite this, individuals from all participating units were able to come together and stand up the base and get it where it is now – smoothly operating.

“It’s just a very unique experience and it’s been great working with our counterparts … Everyone coming together and seeing from planning – all the visions and thoughts that went into it, all the hard work that went into it – [coming] to life,” Tiumala said. “That’s a very rewarding experience – just being able to get the base operational at the end of the day to support the mission.”