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Utah Air Guard Completes Joint Agile Combat Employment Exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Colton Elliott,
  • 151st Air Refueling Wing

SALT LAKE CITY – As the Air Force continues to prioritize Agile Combat Employment, Airmen from the 151st Air Refueling Wing conducted their first joint multicapable Airmen exercise at Dugway Proving Ground Sept. 8.

ACE is an operating concept for today’s changing threat environment and will shape how Airmen are trained and fight today and into the future. Developing multicapable Airmen represents a shift from traditional large-force packages to a smaller footprint.

“The Utah Air National Guard is committed to developing new operational concepts, capabilities and plans in order to bolster deterrence and maintain our competitive advantage for the future,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Boyack, Utah Air National Guard commander.

During the one-day culminating event of Exercise Thanos, the Utah Air National Guard was the lead wing for approximately 200 service members. The team consisted of personnel from the Utah Army National Guard, the 388th Fighter Wing, 419th Fighter Wing, The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC), the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC), and Dugway Proving Ground.

The exercise began with an idea from members of the Utah Air National Guard working with the AATC to push boundaries and experiment with the idea of creating a mobile command and control platform. Their concept came to life with collaboration between the 109th Air Control Squadron and the 19th Special Forces Group, Utah National Guard.

“We made a phone call to the 19th Special Forces Group and asked if they would be able to support our idea of constructing a mobile [command and control] unit,” said Capt. Christopher Gerdes, chief of weapons and tactics, 109th Air Control Squadron. “They were supportive and allowed us to borrow two Polaris MRZR razors.”

Gerdes said by partnering with the Army, they could save the Air Force nearly $800,000 and repurpose old assets to continue modernizing forces. The razors were configured to use radar data and other communications to operate as the first Utah Air Guard Mobile Integrated Command and Control unit in an austere environment. They were also configured with defensive systems.

One of the challenges of the exercise was to use organic airlift. The 109th and 19th SFG worked closely with the 151st Logistic Readiness Squadron (LRS) to configure a load plan for two razors on a KC-135 for the first time in Air Force history and fly them out to Dugway Proving Ground.

“The KC-135 is not often considered as a platform to transport rolling equipment required for this mission set, mainly due to the side door loading capabilities and restrictions of the jet,” said Master Sgt. Chris Cook, LRS operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “At the time, our computer systems were telling us that there was no way to configure the aircraft; however, we were able to do something we didn’t think was possible.”

Once the razors were offloaded, the joint team of Soldiers and Airmen deployed on the razors into the remote west desert of Utah to test the capabilities of the mobile command and control platform. While continuously relocating throughout the desert, the joint teams successfully communicated with and called in targets for multiple manned and unmanned aircraft.

The exercise also enabled cross-platform familiarization training for fuels, aircraft maintenance, and crew chiefs. They gained experience with multiple platforms, including  F-35, F-18, F-16, KC-135, AH-64 and UH-60, they typically would not get at their home stations.

Tech. Sgt. Taylor Sermon, crew chief 151st MXG, said the familiarization training on different aircraft will enhance Airmen’s capability outside their core specialty. 

“Having the opportunity to have cross-talk with other branches, such as the Navy, was a gratifying experience,” said Sermon. “As excited as we were to talk about our jet, we were also eager to learn about theirs. We could tell it was a mutual experience.”

Another exercise objective involved Airmen from the 151st LRS fuels shop. They were challenged to defuel the KC-135 into an Army Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) and an Air Force R-11. 

Additionally, Airmen from the 151st Mission Support Group (MSG) were able to sharpen their skills defending the flight line, providing first aid and delivering meals to all involved in the exercise.

“This exercise allowed our Airmen to train and validate the new innovative ways of accomplishing and implementing processes while learning tasks that may be outside their assigned career field,” said Christina Lock, commander, 151st MSG. “Being able to train for real- world scenarios while also empowering our Airmen to become multicapable is the best way to support the Agile Combat Employment concept.”

Exercise Thanos came together with an extremely compressed timeline, 35 days from concept to execution. 

“This event exceeded our expectations,” said Boyack. “These Airmen and Soldiers have pushed their comfort zones, taken intelligent risks, created and proved several new concepts. I look forward to seeing what else we will accomplish by leveraging our new joint relationships we developed during the exercise.”