Travis unit readying bases for U.S. surge in Afghanistan
As more U.S. troops prepare for deployment to Afghanistan following President Barack Obama's decision to build up forces there, many Americans will be watching the efforts of the nation's front-line warriors. But long before those troops take their first steps in that arid, rugged nation, a little-known but critically important unit based at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield will already be there. Its job: to make sure the Air Force's massive fleet of transport aircraft has safe places to take off and land in areas known as forward operating bases. The men and women of the 615th Contingency Response Wing head to remote areas around the globe – sometimes just hours after those areas have been taken from enemy hands – and quickly construct military airports that can accommodate cargo aircraft such as the hulking C-5 Galaxy, the newer C-17 Globemaster III and the venerable C-130 Hercules. And when the unit isn't preparing or refurbishing airstrips for military purposes, its members help with humanitarian relief efforts or head to areas hit by natural disasters around the world…. The entire wing – one of only two in the Air Force – consists of 650 people, but 113 specialists in a first "ready group" stay packed and prepared around the clock so they can be airborne in 12 hours or less after getting an assignment…. The key to the unit's being able to move so quickly lies in its preparation, he said. A giant warehouse not far from the main runway at Travis Air Force Base houses hundreds of pallets packed with the gear needed to open and operate an airport where no electricity, food or running water is available. The pallets are designed to slide into the cargo bay of one of the base's transport planes, crewed by another unit. The flight to Afghanistan from Travis – assisted by mid-flight air-to-air refueling – takes about 20 hours. Once on the ground in a war zone, the unit faces the daunting task of working in an environment where being harassed by the enemy can be fairly common…. Given the president's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Lipinski said the wing is likely to get a lot of work in the days and weeks ahead. "We do expect 2010 to be busy,"….