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12th Combat Training Squadron supports joint air-to-ground operations

Airman stands on a hill and talks on the radio.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Flores, 12th Combat Training Squadron (CTS) tactical air control party (TACP) Airman talks on his radio during a Green Flag West 21-02 exercise, at Fort Irwin Army Base, California, Nov. 13, 2020. The 12th CTS supports up to 11 rotations of Green Flags yearly, enabling the joint task force to execute decisive operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

Soldier drives Armored Personnel carrier on hill.

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (3rd BCT), 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, ride in an Armored Personnel Carrier during a Green Flag West 21-02 exercise, at Fort Irwin Army Base, California, Nov. 13, 2020. Fort Irwin’s location in the Mojave Desert provides the space needed to perform large-scale combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

Airmen talk on a hill.

Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander and Staff Sgt. Josh Paquette, 12th Combat Training Squadron tactical air control party Airman discuss plausible operation courses of actions during a Green Flag West 21-02 exercise, at Fort Irwin Army Base, California, Nov. 13, 2020. The exercise provided a contested environment and oppositional force to test joint forces on all domains of warfare. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

Airmen stand on a hill.

Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Raul Villarreal Jr., 57th Wing command chief, observe a Green Flag West 21-02 exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 13, 2020. Drowley and Villarreal watched as tactical air control party Airmen coordinated with A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft, who provided close-air support to ground units. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

FORT IRWIN ARMY BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- With the turn of a key, the engine is ignited and the silence surrounding the 12th Combat Training Squadron at Fort Irwin is broken.

After everything is loaded in the awaiting Humvees, Staff Sgt. Raymond Flores, a 12th CTS tactical air control party Airman turns around and offers a final piece of advice: “If something isn’t strapped down, hold on to it. It’s going to get bumpy.”

The aforementioned bumps offer a tiny glimpse into the fundamental approach of the 12th CTS and the Green Flag West 21-02 exercise. Participants were prepared for a contested battle in a simulated deployed environment from Oct. 30-Nov.13.

The 12th CTS, a geographically separated unit of the 57th Operations Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, supports the U.S. Army National Training Center, where Fort Irwin trains Airmen and Soldiers to control, sustain and integrate in a realistic battle environment in order to improve joint force readiness.

The unit represents the Air Force in the planning stages with Army commanders and supports up to 11 rotations of Green Flag West exercises yearly. The 12th CTS observes and coaches the joint task force as it executes decisive operations.

Green Flag West 21-02 provided some participants with their first experience in combat scenarios and joint, close-air-support operations.

During the two-week exercise, Airmen and Soldiers operated in tents, ate meals ready to eat, or MREs, and adapted to desert conditions while preparing to face their simulated enemy, “The Blackhorse,” a role played by Fort Irwin’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s ground force.

“Green Flag represents contested training against a true thinking adversary,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Wentzel, 12th CTS commander. “Blackhorse is the world’s most advanced opposition force. They’ve studied doctrine of adversary forces and always try to find new and interesting ways to challenge the brigades that we train here.”

Despite a large ground-force focus, Green Flag West is not just restricted to being a land exercise. It also provides oppositional air and cyber forces that offer the opportunity to challenge participants in all domains of warfare.

“We test brigades and air forces in every one of these domains simultaneously in order to challenge them,” Wentzel said. “In normal day-to-day training, these units might be able to execute their mission as planned. Our goal here is to force every execution, every mission and every component down to a contingency. We want them to have to think through every step.”

In order to support the NTC and Green Flag, the 12th CTS’s three flights and the commander’s support staff work to provide comprehensive training to prepare troops to go downrange.

The 12th CTS provides continuous support for rotations of Green Flag exercises via the various roles that their flights play. For example, A-Flight’s TACP and Joint Terminal Attack Controller Airmen control aircraft and advise the ground commander. B-Flight serves as the engine, and C-Flight provides real-world weather support.

“We are a small unit, and being a GSU (ground support unit), we have to be as self-reliant as possible,” said Tech. Sgt. John D. Polonius, 12th CTS support flight chief. “We are isolated so we focus heavily on efficiency. We all have multiple jobs outside of our trained career field, because out here, you have to be a jack of all trades.”

The 12th CTS considers itself to be the glue that bonds joint integration together enabling execution to take place.

“We work with the Army every day and understand the intricacies that go into making air power and Army fire power work together,” said Master Sgt. Aaron Cass, 12th CTS operations superintendent. “You can train all day, talk about it or read about it, but when they come here, it’s the realities of working with different characters, working with different types of warfighter functions and making it work.”

Although minimally manned, this squadron and the NTC provide a proving ground for all visitors to sharpen their skills while offering critical downrange training for joint units.

“Like our Airmen and the Air Force, the 12th CTS represents the flexibility of air power,” Wentzel said. “As we transition our warfighting focus back to large-scale combat operations against peer or near-peer adversaries, exercises like Green Flag represent the pinnacle of training.”

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