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Idaho’s Hawgs in Deutschland

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joseph Morgan
  • 124th Fighter Wing

LECHFELD AIR BASE, Germany – This summer, six A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft with more than 100 Airmen from the 124th Fighter Wing, Idaho Air National Guard, traveled to Germany in support of Air Defender 2023, the largest collective defense exercise since the inception of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949.

Over the course of two weeks in June, Germany and its air force, or Luftwaffe, hosted more than 200 aircraft from over 20 countries participating alongside 40-plus Air National Guard units from 35 states. With the Air Force and Air National Guard contributing some 2,000 Airmen along with 100 aircraft to the exercise, the U.S is showcasing interoperability and reinforcing its commitment to partners both regionally and across the globe.

“We have to keep exercising this muscle so movements of this size become easier,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Richardson, the Operations Group commander assigned to the 124th FW. “The amount of effort and manpower it took to get our aircraft, equipment and people over here is staggering. And though we ran into a few hurdles, our Airmen pulled it off.”

With many units participating, Richardson believes integrating and practicing agile combat employment was vital to the success of this exercise.

Upon arriving in Western Europe, U.S. Airmen from the 175th Fighter Wing, Maryland National Guard, partnered with maintainers from the 124th FW to replace an aircraft engine overnight. This combined effort allowed the aircraft to arrive at its final destination in time for the exercise to kick off, the National Guard’s motto of Always Ready, Always There.

During AD23, this integration continued on a multinational level.
German joint terminal attack controllers frequently travel to Idaho’s premier training ranges to train with the 124th FW’s A-10’s and the Air Support Operations Squadron. AD23 enabled the Idaho Air National Guard to reunite and train with those German JTACs on German soil.

“As we worked with the German JTACs, we were able to practice convoy escort, close-air ground support and air-interdiction training,” said Richardson. “Additionally, we were provided the opportunity to fly with the Hellenic air force’s F-16s and the Germany’s 74th Tactical Air Wing Eurofighters, while practicing CAS with multinational forces.”

These were bonus, self-directed exercises, said Richardson. AD23’s primary flying operations were hosted and led by the Luftwaffe. The missions included two massive, multinational events in the north and south of Germany, where dozens of aircraft would coordinate with one another to execute specific daily objectives.

Mission planning on this scale required daily NATO-facilitated briefings, where representatives from every participating unit across Western Europe would converge to highlight strategic and tactical interoperability targets. Protecting the systems and infrastructure that facilitates these large-scale exercises is a monumental task. This is where the Cyber Operations Squadron is pivotal.

“While the pilots execute the AD23 mission, we ensure and protect the infrastructure required to do that,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Carol Kaczmarski, the NCO in charge of cyber intelligence, 124th FW/COS. “We’re integrating with the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron’s expeditionary communications unit [from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida]. That’s a first for us, and it’s allowed us collectively to establish a network for our pilots, defend it, and outmaneuver any adversaries who might be trying to exploit that network.”

Cyber assurance is foundational for mission success. It facilitates crucial communications between maintainers regionally as they assess aircraft readiness. Likewise, it provides intelligence specialists the means to relay critical information to flying operations staff.

“We’re having to flex our creative muscles as we work with our expeditionary comm counterparts in an austere environment to protect our infrastructure with somewhat limited resources,” said Kaczmarski. “Collaborating with other units in different languages with different capabilities has forced us to step up in certain situations and be reliant on our peers in other situations, which has led to team cohesion. And because we’re creative and agile, we will continue to be successful.”

For the 124th COS, the lessons learned during this exercise are already being implemented into their standard operating procedures.

“This is the first time ever that a cyber protection team has integrated with an expeditionary communications unit and a fighter wing at the tactical level,” said Kaczmarski. “It’s been formative as cyber operators and we’re excited to take what we’ve learned back to the larger cyber community.”

As conflicts persist around the globe, the need to meet aggression with credible deterrence is paramount. AD23 accomplished this on a multinational scale through strengthening our international relationship and emboldening our NATO allies.

“I think this exercise was a huge win, not just for the 124th Fighter Wing, but for every participating unit and country,” said Richardson. “We’ll reap the benefits of the relationships we’ve built and the experiences we’ve had during Air Defender well into the future.”