Liberators hold South Pacific Air Force Multi-mission exercise

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Cierra Presentado
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- More than 160 members from the 459th Air Refueling Wing recently participated in an eight-day field exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, testing the wing’s ability to deploy 5,000 miles to a location with limited infrastructure, and execute expeditionary wing functions.

The South Pacific Air Force Multi-mission exercise, held July 22-30, 2022, is the first ever exercise the wing planned to assess warfighter resilience in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited environment while also testing the wing’s capabilities in providing a focused response to air mobility taskings and incorporating air combat support execution elements. The exercise balanced the wing’s ability to deploy and operate in a chemically-exposed environment and meet the requirements necessary to fight a peer adversary in the Indo-PACOM theater.

Members from every unit in the wing, including the wing staff and medical squadrons, participated in this landmark exercise to develop their skills and capabilities, and demonstrate innovative solutions to logistical issues to sustain a mock air base with limited “host nation” support while generating aircraft needed in the peer adversary fight.  While in the theater, the 756th Air Refueling Squadron partnered with the Hawaii Air National Guard to fly night formation and refuel fifth generation fighters.

“SPAM was an excellent opportunity to introduce Airmen to the Indo-PACOM theater,” said Maj. Michael Doris, Exercise Project Officer. “They experienced the challenges of operating in a contested environment and were able to test themselves by coming up with innovative solutions within their career fields.”

The exercise not only tested each member’s ability to innovate and overcome difficulties presented by a hazardous and hostile environment, it also presented opportunities to work with other forces.

“It gave them a chance to work with partner agencies and introduced them to working in a joint environment,” said Doris. “And for many of them, it was their first time.”

Doris further explained that an objective of the exercise was to establish an integrated joint force and civilian medical team capable of responding to medical emergencies. This activity included in-flight surgery, engine running onload, and medical evacuation operations. Working with the National Defense Medical System was a first for medical personnel in the wing. And the civilian NDMS personnel were in the “fight” with their military medical counterparts participating through the duration of the exercise.

"The 459th Critical Care Air Transport Team demonstrated a whole-of-government force-multiplier effect with its civilian counterparts in the National Disaster Medical System as they worked to transport, treat, and transition critical care patients, and also advance 'care in the air' that would lead to immediate and durable impacts in future conflicts,” said Lt. Col. Robert Flemming, 459th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Commander.

Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Widner, Superintendent, Inspector General Inspections Office offered a couple of examples of the joint activity. He said the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron received training from the Army’s 25th Infantry Division in transporting patients via helicopter. Additionally, the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing provided training on patient movement equipment.

Leveraging these relationships assisted members in fulfilling sustainment, support, and transportation requirements throughout the exercise.  This was critical to mission success and offered Airmen the opportunity to exercise the innovation and adaptation required to succeed within the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) construct. ACE is the way of the future as it is a key operating concept for how the Air Force will fight in a modern, contested environment.

“It allowed us to introduce the Multi-Capable Airman concept,” said Doris. “We elevated everyone’s expeditionary skills, and they got a chance to see what MCA means to them in their career fields.”

Additional connections show wing members integrated with local aviation personnel to receive training in aircraft marshalling, which was very beneficial to aerial porters who needed to work on the development of this skill. Training in airfield operations and the use of aviation group equipment was also provided.

There are other examples of innovation and teamwork that also developed from the exercise, such as increased medical support infrastructure by the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and the Hawaii ANG, and expanded equipment use and training between the 459th Command Post, the Space Force, and the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron who combined to perform very effective command and control. Exercise planners said the exercise proved to be beneficial to the wing’s mission.

“SPAM allowed the wing to view its strengths as well as its needs in getting after the high-end fight,” said Widner.

"The exercise showcased how invaluable hands-on training opportunities like this can be with our medical Airmen, especially in how we respond with innovative tactics in a high-stress contested environment and strategic thinking pre- and post-event,” said Flemming.

“I intended to push our Airmen, including myself, to operate in a tough environment to see how we’d react,” said Col. Greg Buchanan, 459th ARW Commander. “I wanted to see innovation. I wanted to see teamwork. I wanted to see communication. They didn’t disappoint. As the Chief of Staff of the Air Force said, we must accelerate change or lose, and our members proved they can make expedient, smart adjustments and improvements under pressure.”

“It was a golden opportunity for us to set a benchmark for the wing and go forward and progress as we look to do similar activities in the future,” said Doris.

Many entities were involved to ensure the exercise’s success. The 459th worked with members from the U.S. Army Hawaii 25th Infantry Division, National Defense Medical System, Space Force, 25th ASOS, and Hawaii Air National Guard during each phase of the exercise. In addition, airlift support was provided by the 315th Airlift Wing, 445th AW, and 452nd Air Mobility Wing. The 445th’s C-17 Globemaster IIIs and their aircrew and maintenance teams also participated in the aeromedical missions throughout the exercise.