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Hawaii guardsmen deliver airlift for exercise Southern Strike 19

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John Linzmeier
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs
Members of the Hawaii Air National Guard held airlift operations Jan. 13 through 25 during a large-scale joint and multinational exercise in Gulfport.

Exercise Southern Strike 19 is hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard at Gulfport’s Combat Readiness Training Center – Battlefield Airmen Center. It provides participants the opportunity to build partnerships and maintain combat readiness for future missions.

“It’s nice to bring other units in, such as the Hawaii Air National Guard, and have their perspective on what we’re doing here,” said Col. Joseph E. Reid, CRTC base commander. “It’s a value added to them and a value added to us. We can also expose them to different units which come from different parts of the country.”

Approximately 2,000 service members from both the active and reserve components in every branch of the military participated in the combat exercise. The Hawaii participants are from the 204th Airlift Squadron, 154th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and a team of active-duty Airmen from the 15th Wing.

Capt. Evan Kurosu, 204th AS pilot and mission planner, said the exercise exposes his unit to challenges which are not easy to come by while stationed in Oahu. Southern Strike tested the Airmen’s readiness through a variety of obstacles, such as shorter runways, larger variations of cargo, low-level flying and staged threats to work around.

Over the two weeks of training, the Hawaii guardsmen airlifted members from several units on a C-17 Globemaster III to complete a series of wartime tasks, to include Army special forces and a team of distinguished visitors from the Chilean Army. Other activities entailed multiple cross-country flights to transport personnel and equipment from Fargo, N.D., air-refueling operations in the dark, high-altitude low-opening jumps, airdrop coordination and more.

After a year of planning and coordination, Kurosu said it was rewarding to watch his crew members complete the back-to-back training objectives. Exercise Southern Strike also served to help improve the Hawaii ANG’s ability to respond to natural disasters.

“Ultimately, one of the things that makes me proud to be a Hawaii Air National Guardsmen is that we do have specific mission sets. For example, humanitarian relief. So, when we execute our assault landings and other wartime scenarios, these proficiencies are still relevant when we get to do things like hurricane evacs or relief missions, like when we responded to Hurricane Maria (in 2017).”

The 204th AS's emergency-response capabilities can be called upon at any time, and their mission set is growing. The squadron is now extending its search and rescue skills with NASA and postured to rescue astronauts from downed spacecraft virtually anywhere in the Pacific.

Regardless of the call-to-duty, aircrew and maintenance personnel will always rely on their ongoing training to fight battles and save lives - especially when it comes to working with their joint and international partners.

“Today’s military is all about working together in a joint environment, and that’s what we’re all about – whether it’s here or back at home,” said Brig. Gen. Barry Blanchard, Mississippi Air National Guard chief of staff. “The more exposure you get to it, the better off we’re all prepared for the next event.”