AATC participates in multi-service, multi-aircraft exercise Southern Lightning Strike

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. H. Edward Stramler
  • 162 Wing

Airmen from Morris Air National Guard Base’s Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC), Tucson, Arizona, recently traveled to New Orleans to participate in Operation Southern Lightning Strike.

The multi-service exercise tested units’ abilities to deploy with minimal personnel and equipment to austere locations while completing their mission. 

The exercise gathered Army and Air National Guard members from Arizona, Mississippi, Minnesota, Louisiana and Alabama, including members from Tucson’s AATC, to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans.

“Exercise Southern Lightning Strike is practicing the ACE concept—agile combat employment. Basically, we need to go to war a different way, a different format,” said Lt. Col. Niul Manske, AATC Test and Operations Group director. “We want to keep our lethality, but we need to be much more agile, much more mobile than how we do it now. AATC realizes it's a problem set to be solved, and we came here to get after it.” 

The exercise serves as an Air National Guard early-building block to help build new best practices and identify shortfalls that can be integrated into current and future deployments.     

AATC falls under both the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Commands, but 75% of the personnel and aircraft in the exercise were provided by the ANG.

"A lot of times (the Guard) is overlooked by the active-duty Air Force but we are involved in a lot more missions than most people realize. We are all over the world with different types of missions," said Tech. Sgt. Jose Chambers, 183rd Airlift Squadron. “Training keeps our military strong. Exercises like this give us a stronger force. We build good relationships, so down the road, we’re a lot better trained on what's actually going on.”

Lt. Col. David Auston, AATC Southern Lightning Strike project officer and F-16 Fighting Falcon test pilot, echoed the value of the deployment. 

"This exercise is beneficial because we get to interact in a larger force structure, which we don't do on a regular basis back home,” he said. “We also get to accomplish dissimilar air combat training (DACT) and operate out of an environment that we’re not familiar with.”

While the exercise is designed to challenge participants with operating in a new location, a real-life logistical issue offered all of the Airmen a true problem-solving obstacle that they overcame with quick thinking and cooperation.

“We had a jet break and we weren’t going to be able to make [the] mission,” said Staff Sgt. Terrell Lennox, a materiel manager with the 162nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. 

They were in need of a part, and Lennox reached out to nearby units and was able to locate the part.

“I got in contact with the C-130 (Globemaster III) crew that’s out here for Southern Strike and the crew agreed to go and pick it up,” Lennox said. “Engines running, they threw the part on the back of the C-130 and got it back to us to make the next mission the following morning.”

Airmen expressed an overall appreciation for the opportunity to collaborate, test and learn from each other during the exercise.

“It's been a great experience being able to work with the different teams and going up against the different airframes,” Lennox said. “I hope that everybody has an opportunity to come out here sometime down the road and join this exercise.”

The AATC team concurred with the effectiveness of the overall exercise. Auston summarized the ANG’s participation.

"The largest take-away for the Air National Guard is the necessary modernization and changes being worked by the test center [AATC], but also noting the back shop support, logistics and execution that is needed to adapt to the new environment that we're facing today,” Auston said. “The war that we've fought for the last 20 years is not what we're envisioning going forward. We need to modernize in increments to be successful as we go forward."

AATC Headquarters is a tenant unit to the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing located at the Morris ANG Base in Tucson, Arizona, but an entity which reports to both the ANG and Air Force Reserve. 

“We’re honored to host AATC at the Morris Air National Guard Base,” said Brig Gen Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing Commander. “They play a big role in making our United States military a more lethal, innovative force.”