Answering the Call across Continents
Engineering assistance missions are essential to America’s long-term international relations and especially timely with the military’s strategic Rebalance to the Pacific.
By 2nd Lt. Alexander J. Graboski, M.SAME, USAF
The 435th MCF supported Israel-U.S. relations by constructing a bomb build-up pad during joint exercise Austere Challenge 2012. In the past year alone, the airmen of MCF have traveled to eight countries and performed 13 construction and humanitarian assistance projects. PHOTOS BY TECH SGT. ALVAH MILLS, USAF
Troop labor has always been a viable option to save on construction costs throughout the Combatant Commands. Prior to the existence of the 435th Military Construction Flight (MCF), the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and U.S. Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA) did not have access to a military-only team dedicated to rapid-response mobile construction. Since September 2008, the 435th MCF has grown from a basic concept into a well-built USAFE-AFAFRICA asset—a premier, short-notice construction force that can be at any place, any time.
Comprised of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, surveyors and heavy equipment operators, the team, in many ways, closely mirrors a small Air Force RED HORSE squadron, yet without logistics and medical capabilities. Most of these capabilities, however, easily can be obtained through the support of the flight’s German nationals. Among them are construction experts, a first-class design team, procurement and logistics professionals as well as an outstanding transportation unit.
The purpose of MCF is to meet civil engineer construction requirements that are tasked from USAFE-AFAFRICA in support of European Command and Africa Command Areas of Responsibility. As the premier exercise-related construction and humanitarian aid executor, MCF seeks to improve exercise locations throughout the theater while improving relations with U.S. allies. The flight is assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Group, Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, and tops off the group's “open the base mission” requirements for contingency locations.
Typically, the team is deployed seven months out of the year. In the past year alone, MCF has traveled to eight countries and performed 13 exercise-related construction and humanitarian assistance projects worth $2.6 million.
As Lead Pavement and Equipment Operator Tech. Sgt. Marcos Silva, USAF, explains, the work is not just strategic, but rewarding: “Being a part of this team has been an amazing experience. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over Europe and parts of Africa to help build partnerships with the local people.”
The 435th MCF most recently found itself in Israel supporting joint exercise Austere Challenge 2012. During this deployment, the construction team took the hand-off from U.S. Navy Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) Three in order to complete a bomb build-up pad to support future exercises. While the Seabees completed the ground-work preparation, MCF partnered with four members from neighboring USAFE-AFAFRICA bases to place more than 1,200-m³ of concrete. The project was immediately interrupted as Gaza attacks threatened to shut down all operations in theater. However, the construction team was resilient. Flexible and mission focused, they overcame numerous obstacles that were only compounded by a high-stress combat environment. The team faced interruptions in deliveries and material acquisition due to the unyielding rockets. Still they drove on to complete the assignment successfully and provide a key piece of long-term infrastructure.
While on site, the airmen of the 435th MCF also joined hands alongside Israeli Defense Forces to build a training facility for the local Emergency Disaster Response Team. Construction included placement of a concrete pad and installation of a preengineered sunshade. Though seemingly a straightforward mission, it is projects like this that help the U.S. build lasting partnerships with allies.
As an agile, rapid response squadron, MCF must be ever-prepared. The team has been called upon many times by Special Operations Command Africa to send small teams to perform work in austere locations. Such was the case in September 2012 when MCF was tasked to repair severe runway ruts that were threatening to shutdown an airfield in South Sudan, rendering the area useless to local air-driven forces. Prior to this, the airmen had installed a runway lighting system to enable 24-hour operations. The team’s lean composition is ideal to support such missions.
At Graf Ignatievo AB, Bulgaria, the 435th MCF worked closely with the Bulgarian military leadership to construct a loading ramp used by U.S. and Bulgarian forces during joint training exercise Thracian Star. PHOTO BY TECH SGT. IAN AEPPLI, USAF
COUNTRY TO COUNTRY
MCF is often deployed to Eastern European countries in support of exerciserelated construction projects and humanitarian aid construction. At Graf Ignatievo AB, Bulgaria, the airmen worked closely with the Bulgarian military leadership to construct a loading ramp used by U.S. and Bulgarian forces during joint training exercise Thracian Star. The project was programmed in response to a critical injury an Air Force airman had sustained during a past exercise. During the deployment, MCF took its work further, reaching out to the local population to renovate a kitchen in a nearby pediatric hospital, the largest in South Bulgaria. The work included adding new cooking appliances, counters and storage closets.
Said Tech. Sgt. Ian Aeppli, Water Fuel Systems Maintenance Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge: “It was great to be able to step away from standard military mission activities and be able to reach out to the local communities when given the opportunity. There are not too many other situations in life where you can work sideby- side with people from other countries that you have never met to reach a common goal.”
MCF has constructed four new offices and a post office over the last two years for Air Force personnel assigned to the heavy airlift contingent in Papa AB, Hungary. The team was able to assist airmen in this unique location who do not have access to civil engineer support found at typical military installations.
In 2011, the team ventured to Romania in support of exercise Dacian Viper. Two ramp extensions that allow F-15s to turn around without requiring pushback from a tug were installed, along with hybrid concrete mobile aircraft arresting system (MAAS) pads, which reduced the install time of a MAAS unit by 75 percent. While in country, the team also partnered with the local military to build a memorial for two downed Romanian pilots.
Reaching back to 2010, the flight teamed with Seabees from NMCB One along with the Montenegrin Army to renovate a clinic during exercise MEDCEUR 2010. As the Seabees constructed an entirely new emergency room, MCF focused on an entranceway repair and extension to include a new Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible ramp and wider doors.
In addition to traveling around Eastern Europe and Africa, MCF also helps out locally with construction projects in Central and Western Europe. In the past year, the team helped demolish facilities at a closing school in Geilenkirchen, Germany; constructed and installed a K-9 obstacle course at Ramstein; renovated the Office of Special Investigation administrative area at Kapaun AB, Germany; and constructed England’s first K-span at RAF Mildenhall.
READY ON CALL
The 435th MCF is a very unique entity: built to be fast, responsive and successful. The team has made a huge impact around Europe and Africa through its ability to quickly answer the growing construction needs in theater, while supporting engineering assistance missions to regions in need Africa and Europe.
There is no telling where they will be next—but wherever it is, be certain this exceptional and adaptable team of professionals will deliver quality work and goodwill on whatever they are tasked to do.
2nd Lt. Alexander J. Graboski, M.SAME, USAF, is Commander, Military Construction Flight, 435th Construction & Training Squadron; +49 0 6371 405 7858, or alexander.graboski.1@ us.af.mil.