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Alabama Airmen keep Battlefield Communications open at Northern Strike 23

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sean Moriarty,
  • Michigan National Guard

ALPENA, Mich. – A team of Alabama Air National Guard Airmen kept the communications lines open during Northern Strike 2023 - one of the nation’s largest annual National Guard training exercises.

The 232nd Combat Communications Squadron members traveled to the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in northern Michigan to support Exercise Northern Strike for two weeks in August. The Airmen came with two missions; train their members in an environment that emulates reality, and showcase their skills as an essential component to the new direction of field combat.

 “Comms,” short for “Communications,” is critical to combat success and is an integral part of military exercises such as Northern Strike. The U.S. Air Force has always required communications squadrons, such as the 232nd, to be present at installing forward operating bases or long-term encampments.

“Units like ours are responsible for opening air bases,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brett Weir, section chief of the 232nd’s flexible communications team. “We’re the first ones there after TACPs clear the area and we’re one of the last groups out when bases leave.”

Part of what makes an event like NS23 so valuable is the opportunity to practice and implement Agile Combat Employment (ACE) skills, a new operational scheme that the Air Force has been standing up to contend with an ever-changing environment. ACE uses the concept of Air Force units being fast and mobile to disrupt adversary planning while also veiling the capability of friendly forces. The purpose of ACE is to forego the construction of large permanent installations in favor of portable and just as effective assets.

“The old ways of setting up a big base, big package, lots of people in an area. That’s not the way anymore,” said Master Sgt. William Proffitt, section chief of the 232nd’s small combat communications team. “Now it’s small, fast, moveable, lightweight and tactical. So, we have to get used to it.”

The 232nd provided critical communication services during the exercise, implementing an ACE communications package designed by the unit. During the landing of a KC-135 Stratotanker and hot refuel, where the aircraft remains running, a three-Airman-man crew of communication specialists removed 350 pounds of equipment through a bottom hatch. It lowered it 12 feet to the ground. The team then transported the gear toward the nose of the plane and carried it to a safe distance. Once removed, the team set up an antenna, dish, switches, and routers to contact servers via satellite. Although the small team had practiced with this equipment, they had never done the demonstration out of a running aircraft before Northern Strike. During the exercise, the team achieved connectivity and established communication within 25 minutes of opening the hatch.

“Unprecedented,” said Major Jeremy Cushen, 232nd director of operations. “No one had ever done this before and this is the fastest we’ve been able to do it.”

The effect of this maneuver is the ability for aircraft to quickly communicate with higher headquarters or other friendly forces wherever they land. Furthermore, NS23 was a proving ground to show that this kind of package can be used between services to support joint assets outside the Air Force. With the introduction of ACE, the 232nd proved a key mission capability.

Weir attributed the 232nd mission’s success to the camaraderie of the unit’s Airmen.

“We have one of the closest, tight-knit units I’ve seen,” says Weir. “If you ever meet someone from the two-three-two, you’ll see they’re always together and making the job happen.”

Exercise Northern Strike 2023 is a premier reserve component training event that integrates U.S. and partner nation readiness training to build interoperability and strengthen partnerships in an all-domain environment.