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Maryland Air National Guard demonstrates readiness during Operation Frosty Strike

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chris Schepers
  • 175th Wing

MARTIN STATE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, MD -- The Maryland Air National Guard conducted a sweeping operational readiness exercise involving the full spectrum of missions and personnel across Martin State Air National Guard Base Nov. 30 through Dec. 3.

The Air Combat Command directed exercise, designated Operation Frosty Strike 2023, was designed to demonstrate the 175th Wing’s ability to survive and operate in a simulated combat environment against a near-peer adversary while still executing mission-essential tasks and core job functions.

“The significance of this exercise is that it underscores our ability to conduct multi-domain operations in the most difficult of situations,” said Maryland Air National Guard Col. Richard Hunt, 175th Wing Commander. “With a combat deployment scheduled next year and rising threats around the globe, now more than ever we need to maintain peak readiness.” Hunt continued to say, “the Airmen of the 175th Wing demonstrated they are world-class leaders across the Air Force in fully-integrated fighter aircraft operations, Cyber and Intelligence operations, and of the critical support missions that enable mission success in extremely challenging combat scenarios.”

The level of capability demonstrated during the exercise was the result of “carefully and thoughtfully cultivating a top-tier team over the course of many years,” said Hunt.

The Airmen of the 175th Maintenance Group and 175th Operations Group were recognized for maintaining the most mission-capable A-10 fleet within the entire Air National Guard during fiscal year 2023. It also has a level of combat experience that few units in the Air Force can match. In addition to numerous combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 20 years, the unit played a major role in executing the aerial campaign against the Islamic State, where it planned and flew some of the Air Force’s most intensive combat missions in decades.

“Over the past four days, our members have proven that they are ready, and our top-caliber pilots and maintainers who demonstrated this during the exercise, aren’t created overnight,” Hunt said. “It takes years to develop the talent and experience that resides in this Wing, which is why it is so important to keep the 175th Wing in a fighter mission. Even the temporary loss of a flying mission would decimate the wealth of talent and expertise built over the course of decades.”

According to Hunt, that kind of capability demonstrated during the exercise could easily be lost, there are options to preserve it that are both easily accomplished and affordable.

“One of the options available is fleet-leveling fighters from the active Air Force,” Hunt said. “Given our demonstrated readiness levels and affordability of the National Guard when compared to active duty units, that would certainly be something worth looking at.”

During Operation Frosty Strike, the wing demonstrated its ability to generate air power from a main operating base and showcased its ability to provide that same air power through Agile Combat Employment from an austere location simulated at Phillips Army Airfield at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Edgewood, Md. Throughout the exercise, they performed integrated combat turns, which is the rapid rearming and refueling of the A-10 with the engines running, while responding to different threats presented during the exercise.

“These types of exercises are important because it keeps us on our toes,” said Maryland Air National Guard Master Sgt. Ryan Oldewurtel, 175th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics supervisor. “It lets us practice communication, while still being able to provide fully mission-capable aircraft during the chaos of a readiness exercise. It helps us to stay prepared for anything we may encounter in the future.”

While maintainers and pilots were generating air power, Airmen assigned to the 175th Cyberspace Operations Squadron and the 276th Cyberspace Operations Squadron were working hard to keep the wing’s network operational while working through a plethora of threats presented during the exercise. The cyber operators from both squadrons worked together as a combined team and conducted defensive cyber operations against any “adversaries” conducting malicious activities against Department of Defense networks and allied resources. The Air Combat Command IG team of inspectors commented, “this was the most well integrated use of cyber and intelligence into a simulated Combat Readiness Exercise we have seen.”

“Exercises like this are critical to allow us to self-assess our own ability to perform our mission to ensure that when it comes time to mobilize in support of National Mission Teams, we have the personnel who are trained, prepared, and equipped and ready to go downrange,” said Maryland Air National Guard Maj. Justin Schaber, 276th Cyberspace Operations Group Department of Cyber Operations Training assistant officer in charge. “I think this exercise is fantastic and I have really enjoyed working alongside not just the COG but the entire wing and integrating with them to make sure we are taking a ‘one team, one fight’ approach to this.”

Airmen trained in civil engineering, medical, security forces, logistics and many other support functions were required to perform their missions while wearing chemical protective gear and had to take appropriate actions to respond to simulated attacks.

“The great thing about this exercise is that all of the preparation culminates into four intense days, allowing Airmen to focus on exercising core skills and demonstrating their professionalism in a simulated combat environment,” said Maryland Air National Guard Col. Paul Kanning, 175th Operations Group commander. “The exercise moves through a wide range of threats and challenges to train Airmen to execute the mission in a challenging environment that will validate their dedication to the mission.”

Airmen trained in a wide range of career fields demonstrated their ability to perform their primary duties in situations including simulated attacks from cyber, missiles, chemical weapons and ground forces while facing power outages, inclement weather events, vehicle accidents, force protection events, equipment shortages and more.

“We tested Airmen from every career field at the wing in high-stress and fast-paced situations that gave them the ability to demonstrate their ability to react and perform their mission during a variety of challenges designed to stretch our capabilities, so we can see where we need to review and improve our processes,” said Hunt.

Throughout the exercise, all training scenarios were monitored and observed by the wing inspector general office and subject matter experts making up the wing inspection team.

“This exercise is a big test for how ready the wing is to deploy worldwide in a worst-case scenario for a future fight that we could potentially see,” said Maryland Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ian Alexander, 175th Wing inspector general. “We don’t normally get an opportunity to get the whole wing together over the course of four days and evaluate our Airmen in conditions that we can’t replicate during normal day-to-day training.”

At the same time, professionals assigned to the ACC inspector general’s office observed and inspected the wing inspector general’s office and their ability to implement the commander’s inspection program and conduct self-assessments.

At the conclusion of the exercise, the ACC inspector general team and wing inspection team members met with wing leaders and the wing inspector general to go over what they learned before they submit their assessments.

“I am extremely proud of our Airmen and how they performed throughout the exercise; their professionalism shown through despite all they were facing, and it was impressive to witness,” said Hunt. “This is not the end. We always need to be training and evaluating so we are ready whenever our state or nation needs us, and the results of this exercise makes me confident that we are.”