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AF, Army, coalition partners showcase strategic airlift capabilities

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Peter Thompson
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 317th Airlift Group from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, flew to Pope Army Airfield April 7, to participate in Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise 15-01.

The exercise takes place multiple times each year to certify the Air Force and Army's ability to deploy strategic airlift, contingency and support forces in a large formation airdrop.

"The goal is to successfully exercise our ability to conduct a joint forced entry operation against an adversary. Doing this requires us to get scores of organizations working as a team and gathered at Pope Army Airfield," said Col. Jeffrey Brown, the 317th AG commander. "It all comes together in a short amount of time, and all the organizations have to work well together. The fact that so many organizations and units can descend onto Pope AAF and execute such a complex mission is an awesome testament to the way we trained and organized and equipped."

During CJOAX 15-01, the 317th AG and other Air Force mobility assets to include C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster IIIs, worked with parajumpers from the 82nd Airborne Division. Additionally, the Royal Air Force’s 47th Squadron, British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade, worked side by side with American forces to integrate multinational interoperability into the exercise.

"Multinational interoperability involves British Army, U.S. Army, British Royal Air Force and U.S. Air Force. It's bringing all those different tactics and regulations together to achieve the same objective," said Capt. Andrew Karrer, the 317th AG mission planning cell chief. "It really requires a lot of work, experience and great communication between all those pieces to understand what the capabilities are, what the objective is, and to bring all those forces together in a unified response."

The first days of the exercise were dedicated to the units working together in small-scale formations to address their differences and find solutions to common issues. Those days of training, coupled with planning, led to the highlight of the event, a 23-ship tactical airlift formation, which dropped 2,100 paratroopers and hundreds of tons of equipment onto a drop zone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a simulated joint forcible entry.

"You can't do it for real, unless you practice it for real; train like you fight," Brown said. "It needs to be practiced. It's a national capability that we have, to take the 82nd Airborne Division and seize an airfield or provide humanitarian support. We can come in and provide a presence that is there to help people, or we can punch our way in as the pointy end of the spear.

"I'm very proud of the 317th AG and how we executed during CJOAX. Together, with all of our higher-headquarters' tasked missions, the 317th launched every tail we had this past week, including eight that participated in CJOAX,” Brown continued. “Our maintainers also supported five other USAF C-130Js and two RAF C-130Js. On "hit night" maintenance went 14 for 14, which is an amazing testament to the flying, planning, execution and maintenance for the exercise."

Before returning to Dyess, the formation of aircraft also flew to Alexandria, Louisiana, to pick up Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd AD, to airdrop them as part of Global Response Force Exercise. A GRE, like CJOAX, is organized to demonstrate a short-notice, mass-deployment for combat or humanitarian support.

The impact of CJOAX and the GRE stretched deeper than the coordination and execution of airdropping personnel. The week-long exercise bred opportunities for maintainers and aircrews to assimilate with other aircraft platforms. Many of the opportunities afforded to participants from the 317th AG wouldn't be available to them at home station.

Maintainers from the 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron worked hand-in-hand with the 43rd AMXS, a transient maintenance unit which supports a multitude of aircraft platforms. Loadmasters from the 317th AG spent time with vehicle operators from the 82nd AD to practice loading vehicles and machinery for airland operations.

"These opportunities are important to us because they keep us prepared for whatever may come our way," said Staff Sgt. Craig Morrison, a 40th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "It's been great building a partnership with the 82nd Airborne Division and the British Royal Air Force because we are able to learn how each other operates and fine-tune our processes. If we do deploy with these units, we can work more efficiently as a team."

Exercises such as CJOAX and the GRE require multiple facets of Air Force and Army capabilities uniting and working together to achieve a common goal. Airmen, Soldiers, operators, maintainers and civilians alike worked towards the goal of rapidly introducing forces into hostile environments to conduct contingency operations.

By interacting and working closely with joint partners in the exercise, participants are able to develop refinements to process and procedures that can potentially enhance the effectiveness of real-world operations.

"We all have the same goal, which is protecting our nation," Brown said. "It was a joy to working with our British allies and the 82nd (AD) during CJOAX and learning together with them."