GULFPORT, Miss. – U.S. military members across every branch of service trained with international forces on Mississippi’s coast for two weeks during Exercise Southern Strike 2023, hosted by the Mississippi National Guard.
“Southern Strike is an effective way for National Guard and Reserve as well as Active-Duty forces to come together to learn how to train as a collective unit and achieve one goal,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, adjutant general of Mississippi.
Southern Strike has been hosted annually at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Center for 12 years because of its prime location and resources.
“The Combat Readiness Training Center is considered premier training space for the Southern Strike exercise; this facility can host a large number of Airmen and Soldiers, as well as aircraft,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Barry A. Blanchard, assistant adjutant general-Air, Mississippi National Guard. “It encompasses over 11,000 square miles of airspace to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground fights.”
This year, the exercise focused on Agile Combat Employment tactics, techniques and procedures, and Multi-Capable Airmen training.
“Agile Combat Employment is the ability to project, employ, and sustain combat air forces over long distances,” said Blanchard. “We need to remain agile to enhance our ability not to be detected by the enemy. If we are detected, we need to be able to redeploy to another location quickly.”
One ACE concept consists of spreading supplies and equipment across multiple locations rather than concentrating them in one, making it harder for enemies to target.
“We disperse our assets and forces throughout many different contingency locations as it confuses adversary planning,” said Col. Bryce Butler, director of Exercise Southern Strike 2023.
Units conducted training missions that prepared personnel for air-to-air combat, aerial refueling, aerial and ground transport, aeromedical evacuation, and close air support.
“This year, we have over 300 international partners participating in this exercise,” said Blanchard. “Notably, we have our Mississippi State Partnership, the Uzbekistan forces. We also have Belgium, Netherland, United Kingdom, and Canadian forces participating with us.”
Cyber protection played a significant role in the exercise this year.
“Another focus is on multi-domain operations. Camp Shelby has been designated as one of the cyber centers of excellence in the Army National Guard,” said Blanchard. “We are looking to integrate more and more into the cyber domain, offensive and defensive cyber effects as well as electronic warfare aspects into the battlespace.”