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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2015

Yokota Airmen Learn Valuable Lessons in Tinian

By Senior Airman Desiree Economides, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A team of Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, traveled to Tinian, Mariana Islands Jan. 28-31, to prepare the Baker landing zone for Cope North 2015, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.

The intent of the trip was to clear and validate the landing zone utilizing personnel and equipment from the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron at Anderson Air Base, Guam.

"The Baker landing zone will serve as the spoke for the Cope North exercise, which is conceived by 5th Air Force, the 36th Contingency Response Group and the participant forces," said Capt. Mark Nexon, Cope North mission commander. "The exercise is modeled on the collective experience of personnel who flew and directed missions during Operation Damayan in the Philippines."

Operation Damayan was a humanitarian assistance response to the Philippine government in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in Nov. 2013.

Clearing the landing zone took more than simply cutting grass. To complete the project, the team worked together with several local and federal agencies to include Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Commonwealth Northern Marianas Islands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local government on the island of Tinian.

The mission, set to be a one or two day endeavor, took three days.

"Tinian is a jungle," said Capt. Keri Morris, 36th Airlift Squadron pilot. "We didn't fully appreciate how much the trees and shrubbery would encroach onto the runway, but CE did an amazing job plowing through it despite the challenge."

Nexon added, "Everything was happening in real time so we had to adjust our aim and our focus. As we came across problems we had to increase our coordination with the locals, even to contract a tractor."

While the mission provided an opportunity to build relationships, it also prompted Airmen to work strategically.

"A big challenge in today's Air Force is that resources are limited, which means we need to save money where we can," Nexon said.

As such, the team utilized the mission to also accomplish training. Training included theater indoctrination for a new co-pilot in the 36 AS, a navigator over-seas check ride and the loadmasters operated in a location without Air Mobility Squadron support to load and unload unfamiliar cargo.

But training won't stop there.

"Clearing this landing zone will make it possible for crews to see an unfamiliar and unimproved landing zone," Morris said. "This is unparalleled training that cannot be replaced by simulating similar landings on larger airfields."

Taking the time to prepare the landing zone will benefit more than this aircrew.

"Our dedication to making sure the landing zone is open not only for ourselves, but also for our partners only emphasizes our commitment to our allies and that their capabilities are just as important to us as our own," Nexon said.



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