ALPENA, Mich. – A significant portion of Northern Strike’s joint fires readiness training depends on airpower and the close air support it provides. These capabilities are present, thanks in large part to a unique team of maintainers from the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Maintenance Group, Detachment 1.
Since 2012, this team has been a fixture at the National Guard Bureau’s largest joint, multicomponent exercise known as Northern Strike. Northern Strike 20 was no exception. The maintainers from Ft. Drum, New York, once again traveled to Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, part of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan.
“We are supporting the A-10 Thunderbolt II operations on the ground,” said Master Sgt. Nathan McCloud, 174th MXG Det. 1 crew chief. “We are also on call for the F-16 Fighting Falcons, so if they come in here for a hot pit, we can help them.”
The unit refers to the service they provide to the pilots and jets as “turning” them.
“The aircraft comes in and shuts down, we pre- and post-flight the aircraft, making sure it is good to fly,” said McCloud. “Then we service it, provide refueling, and do any small maintenance. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the NASCAR pit crew of the Air National Guard. They come in for a pit stop and we do our thing to get them back in the air.”
The 13,500-plus square mile section of airspace available above the National All-Domain Warfighting Center means a variety of jets can integrate into the training. According to McCloud, in previous years, the unit has supported F-15 Eagles, various refuelers, and aircraft from other service branches.
“Once we make sure an aircraft is ready to go, we send it back out to the range,” said McCloud. “It does its job out there by dropping bombs, shooting its guns, and helping the ground guys.”
The ability to quickly get an aircraft back in the air means the pilots can get more training time and are available to provide their capabilities to forces on the ground. This training is critical in integrating air power into the fight and ensuring readiness, so it can be implemented during contingency operations.
The unit keeps getting the call to work Northern Strike because they are the only unit in the Air National Guard that can provide hot-pit maintenance for various aircraft.
“We bring a wealth of knowledge when it comes to hot pits,” said Tech. Sgt. Brad Villnave, 174th MXG Det. 1 aircraft armament. “We are a complete package. When they get us, they get maintainers, fuels, and weapons.”
While the unit gets to travel to various exercises and locations every year, members still particularly enjoy traveling to Northern Michigan to take part in the National Guard’s largest multinational exercise.
“The people here are great,” said Villnave. “All of the branches are here, and it is cool to see the different units come together. This gives us the 50,000-foot view.”