AVON PARK AUXILIARY AIRFIELD, Fla. (AFNS) —
A F-16 Fighting Falcon escort one C-17 Globemaster III in a simulated austere environment. Engines are running, personnel disembark from the C-17, cargo is downloaded, the airfield is prepared for other planes to land, and within minutes a security perimeter is established and communications are online. This tempo of operation is second nature to those in the emergency response community.
With only four emergency response battles and two emergency response groups within the Air National Guardwhat these Airmen can achieve in minutes under extreme conditions is exceptional.
“Emergency response is essentially an air wing in a box,” said Lt. Col. Wes Carter, commander of the 172nd Contingency Response Flight. “What we’re doing is going out to an airfield that’s either in a war environment that’s been taken over by our army or marine corps counterparts, and we’re going to walk in and take possession of it and start operations. flight operations. Our goal is to land the first aircraft within 24 hours.”
Emergency Response Units also respond to disasters during domestic operations. The unique construction of these organizations allows them to control an airfield that cannot operate due to damage sustained in hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.
“The first time I heard about the CRF was last year during a Agile combat employment exercise,” said Lt. Col. John Pegg, commanding officer of the 100th Fighter Squadron. “Our planes need a lot of support. We have maintainers, avionics, weapons and other moving parts to load and deliver the weapons.” Pegg said using agencies like the CRF just when you hit the ground makes possible what would be an impossible feat.
For many Airmen who participated in Exercise Southern Strike 2022, it was the first time they had participated in an exercise in ACE where airframes from combat air forces, air mobility forces, as well as assets from the army, simultaneously shared an airfield.
“We have a lot of hands-on training and a lot more action than expected, but that’s part of the training, and we welcome a challenge,” said Airman 1st Class Jose Colom, airlift specialist with the 156th Airlift Group. emergency response. “We did a lot of engine unloading, which is not very common for us, as well as night vision operations, which is new for me.
Lt. Col. Todd Morgan, commander of the 146th CRF, said exercises like Southern Strike are essential as emergency response flights undergo a modernization that will allow them to have a team of around 29 Airmen who can provide a working air operation anywhere in the world. while working on an aircraft anytime for 12 hours, operations are organically integrated into the units force structure.
“This type of training is absolutely crucial for us to build relationships across the broader emergency response community,” Morgan said. “During Welcome to the allies of the operation, Volk Field and Holloman Air Force Base were controlled by the Air National Guard, emergency response elements. None of these were purely organic to his own unit.”
The Airmen’s agile and flexible reactions were deft and effective, with continuous injections presented to the Airmen throughout the exercise.
“Our injections are realistic, and even if they don’t know what to do, there’s an after-action report afterwards,” Tech said. sergeant. Brian Visnic, flight sergeant of the 821st Contingency Response Squadron. “It’s a learning environment. This is where you fail. You want to fail here, so when you deploy you’ll know what to do.”
Traditional guards who do not practice their skills on a daily basis have been able to hone their craft and gain valuable knowledge on how to operate as a cohesive entity.
“One thing that was pretty neat is that it’s my first exercise and one of the things I was able to do was build on my training,” Airman 1st Class Jonathan Milian said. , a security force specialist from the 156th Security Operations Squadron. “I just graduated from technical school and the training they gave us was very beneficial. I just came back from my training, I had great team communication and it’s cool to see how well we were all able to work together for the first time.”
“These are just the basics, and we keep adding them. So, given one of their first exercises, it’s a great base that they can start building on,” said the staff sergeant. Anthony Barnes, fire team leader of the 821st CRS. “Every day we’ve been here, we’ve seen improvements in certain areas. We’ve given them continuous feedback, and I’m happy with what we’ve seen.”
Carter said the amount of training they were able to accomplish in four days could sometimes take up to 10 years to orchestrate. Even with the increased tempo, the professionalism of the Airmen involved made the exercise an invaluable training mission.
“The emergency response community is currently sitting in the direction the Air Force is heading,” Morgan said. “When you have versatile Airmen, you take an individual and not only teach them their specific role, but they will learn other abilities. That Airman will be the subject matter expert in their professional field, but we can increase the personnel. where needed.”
Morgan said it was his first time operating in Southern Strike. He said exercises like this allow them to push their personnel to their training limits while employing the doctrines they operate under in a safe environment.
Southern Strike is a large-scale conventional and special operations exercise hosted by the Mississippi National Guard at Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Camp McCain Training Center, Naval Air Station Meridian, Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, and other training locations. The exercise allows the joint team to maintain combat readiness, build relationships, build interoperability and prepare for possible future emergency missions.