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378th AEG stands up at PSAB

  • Published
  • By TSgt. John Wilkes

Nearly two decades ago, it was the largest expeditionary operations center in the Air Force and served as the primary location for air power in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the early months of 2003, thousands of coalition and U.S. service members worked and operated out of Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. By the end of summer 2003, operations shifted to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar where they remain today. Operations in PSAB came to a halt.

On June 15, 2019, almost 16 years later, the 621st Contingency Response Group arrived to a nearly empty patch of sand at PSAB. The U.S. Army Civil Engineers and 557th Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers arrived shortly after. Within a week, they had constructed the foundation of what would become the 378th Air Expeditionary Group.

The first wave of 186 service members assigned to the 378th AEG landed at PSAB on July 28, 2019. Their mission: continue to build and sustain an expeditionary operations hub, used to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia and security of the Middle East region.

“When I visited our Airmen at PSAB, I was highly impressed by their positive attitudes and determination to get after the mission,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Tulley, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “Despite having limited resources and amenities, the 378th AEG Airmen hit the ground running to build up the base which will expand our capabilities in the AOR.”

In less than 90 days, the base went from an empty patch of sand to a sprawling hub and is now home to more than 1,000 service members. In total, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorized the deployment of approximately 3,000 service members to PSAB.

The increased U.S. presence came at the request of Saudi Arabia, and fills a mutually beneficial role of countering destabilizing regional activity.

“We are here to reassure our Saudi partners of our commitment to their security and prosperity,” said Col. Jason King, commander of the 378th Air Expeditionary Group at PSAB, which currently falls under the 379th AEW. “The U.S. has built the base for flexibility. It can scale to be as modest or as large as combatant commanders need.”

Building an expeditionary base from nothing is an arduous process. Supporting thousands of troops presents many challenges and obstacles to overcome.

“When it was time to build the base, the Air Force sent their very best expeditionary Airmen,” King said.

Airmen with the 820th Base Defense Group, 1st Expeditionary Civil Engineer Group and 5th Combat Communications Group were among the first on the ground at PSAB.

“These are three very expeditionary groups of Airmen that are very good at what they do,” said King. “They were able to build the base, defend it and plug it in to command and control, starting from nothing.”
Airmen have worked 24/7 since landing to establish and build out the base.

“Within a week of arriving, 36 tents were constructed for service members to eat, sleep and work out of,” said Lt. Col. Tracy Brannock-Bennett, 378th AEG chief of staff. “We ate MREs, slept on cots and used a single bathroom. Potable water was not yet available so it was difficult to shower and brush our teeth.”

Airmen have continued to put in hard work, overcoming obstacles day in and day out.

Between July and October 2019, Airmen completed construction on hundreds of facilities. There are now 350 tents for service members to live in, a field hospital with an emergency room and surgical area, dining facility, gym, Base Exchange, post office, a morale tent and more.

“The early days were challenging and resources limited but we came together and accomplished a lot,” said Lt. Col. Brian Strickland, 378th AEG deputy commander. “Fortunately, we were welcomed by the Saudi Arabian people. They have treated us very well.”

Airmen with the 1st ECEG installed a water treatment system, providing service members with access to potable water. Combat communications Airmen are working to install fiber optic cable throughout the base.

“In an environment like this, if you want something better, you have to build it,” Strickland said. “The Airmen here have put in a huge amount of work to build this up and make it better.”

While much has been accomplished in a short period of time, there is more work to be done, added Strickland.

“I am very proud,” said King. “The expeditionary Airmen who created this base for more than 2,500 people out of nothing in less than three months [accomplished] a feat that no other country in the world can do. They were able to do it quickly and in a cost effective manner.”

Since May, the Department of Defense has increased the number of service members in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility by approximately 14,000. As part of CENTCOM and U.S. Air Forces Central Command, the 379th AEW and 378th AEG deliver airpower throughout the AOR while sustaining regional presence to promote peace through deterrence.

“From strategic bombers to fifth generation stealth fighters, we’ve proven that PSAB is an important operating location,” said King.