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Hawaii and Alaska service members join forces for first Arctic Aloha exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Roann Gatdula
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs

ANCHORAGE, AK -- Joint forces from across the United States and the Pacific executed an extensive training exercise, spanning from Hawaii to Alaska, known as Arctic Aloha on Nov. 1 - 2.

Built by Airmen from the 154th Wing, 15th Wing, 3rd Wing and 452nd Air Mobility Wing, Arctic Aloha is a joint Army and Air Force exercise aimed at preparing both the U.S. Army's 11th Airborne Division and Mobility Air Forces (MAF) for high-stakes operations against formidable adversaries in challenging environments.

This exercise demonstrated the 11th Airborne Division's proficiency in establishing operations from a geographically separated Intermediate Staging Base (ISB), securing airfields, and maintaining control for the Joint Task Force (JTF) before progressing toward subsequent theater objectives.

Arctic Aloha ran concurrently with the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center (JPMRC) rotation 24-01, a large-scale training exercise that enables collaboration between 5,300 Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard members from across the U.S. Joint Forces, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Thailand.

“To display the magnitude and breadth of mobility operations, we utilized seven of our nine Hickam tails for Arctic Aloha with Total Force Integration (TFI) crews from the 204th Airlift Squadron, 535th Airlift Squadron, and the Royal Australian Air Force. This was the largest TFI exercise output for Hickam C-17s ever,” said Hawaii Air National Guard Maj. Michael Hank, 204th Airlift Squadron evaluator pilot and lead upgrade instructor for Arctic Aloha and JPMRC. “The 15th Maintenance Group deployed their maintenance expertise which led to a 100 percent mission generation rate, while exercising Conditions-based authority in the generation and launching of aircraft.”

The 11th Airborne Division, 154th Wing, 15th Wing, and 452nd Air Mobility Wing planners established an ISB at March Air Reserve Base, California to forward project power and add complexity to the exercise. March ARB served as a strategic basing option for large-scale operations due to their geography, ramp space, and their ability to generate organic effects as a unit-equipped Air Force Reserve Command base.

“The largest hurdle the planning team faced was bringing three units, spanning 4,600 nautical miles, together to operate a plan that was built in a truly dispersed operating environment. This planning effort is the backbone of how we train in the C-17, preparing aircrews for a dispersed operating environment, preparing aircraft commanders to take responsibility and decision-making authority to their level, and giving people the tools to make decisions when the phone lines aren't working,” said U.S. Air Force Reserve Maj. Keely Mahan, 729th Airlift Squadron, air mission commander for the initial JFEO. “Arctic Aloha showcased the preparedness and superior level of execution of our Airmen for the next-gen fight. We made sure not to lose sight of the important role C-17s play in worldwide operations on a daily basis.”

On the day of execution, a formation of eight C-17 Globemaster III aircraft conducted a GPS-degraded ocean crossing and entered into a simulated threat scenario where they evaded threats, fought through communications jamming, and integrated with friendly combat Air Force assets before delivering over 450 jumpers into a contested environment, all within five seconds of the scheduled arrival time.

“Not only is this type of mission unprecedented and extremely impressive, it was done in the midst of a max effort surge of most Air Mobility Assets into the United States European Command Theater,” said Mahan. “The amount of moving pieces in this scale of operation is impressive, but how the planning team perfectly built the operation and the flying team executed it, showcases the level of expertise of our Airmen and Soldiers.”

Following the first Joint Force Entry Operation (JFEO) and the 11th Airborne Division seizing and securing their ground objectives, the joint team established another ISB at Hilo International Airport to operate out of a civilian-owned airfield, similar to what they might see in future conflicts. The joint team executed another eight-ship C-17 Globemaster III formation JFEO into Alaska, delivering more than 550 jumpers as paratroopers seized key lodgements in the Arctic for the JTF Commander within 48 hours, a first of its kind in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) theater.

“We had the opportunity to conduct Joint Planning with three different Air Force Wings across three different time zones,” said U.S. Army Capt. Clare Shea, 2nd Brigade, 11th Airborne Division Infantry Brigade Command Team (Airborne) logistics planner. “It was great to prove we are capable of jumping into the Pacific theater and back into an Arctic climate in under 48 hours. We overcame many of these challenges through constant communication with our Air Force partners and planners.”

A tremendous amount of work from the TFI Planning Team and the 11th Airborne Division planners went into planning Arctic Aloha, with representatives from the Active Duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and the Air Force Reserve Command.

“Executing JFEOs from an Intermediate Staging Base is one of the most difficult scenarios within Joint Publication 3-18 for assaulting an objective area, because it gets both the Air Force and Army outside of their comfort zones and parabolically complicates the logistic picture,” said Hank. “Since the 11th Airborne Division can serve as the International Response Force for the INDOPACOM theater, it was important to both parties to execute this operation as a 48-hour Prepare-to-Deploy Order for initial seizure of the objective area. The joint capability to ‘Re-Kit and Re-Fit’ after follow-on forces arrived enabled the joint team to conduct another JFEO within 39 hours to seize another objective area more than 3,000 miles away.”

Large-scale JFEOs provide a rapid, theater-wide solution to the JTF or a combatant commander with minimal exposure time to MAF assets. Additionally, Airborne Forces can seize and secure different objective areas, such as Airfields or Deep Water Ports, against enemy forces which enables the campaign by creating basing options for Combat Air Force assets or simply maneuver space for a subsequent operation.

“This training is so significant because the Pacific Air Forces displayed its capabilities to execute multiple JFEOs in a very short time frame while simultaneously accomplishing multiple other Desired Learning Objectives throughout the exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jantz Johnson, 517th Airlift Squadron tactics flight commander, who initially flew in the first JFEO and assumed the role of Air Mission Commander in the latter entry. “This exercise sends a strong message of our capabilities on the world stage.”

Organizing and executing a JFEO showcases the collective effort of integrated service members assembling together, accomplishing something greater than the sum of its parts. Different teams bring different levels of skill sets and experience.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of something of this scale, magnitude, and complexity—this has never been done in Hawaii,” said Hawaii Air National Guard Master Sgt. Randall Yamada, 204th Airlift Squadron loadmaster planner and ramp coordinator. “It has been an absolute privilege working on this and it’s laid the foundation to continue to develop stronger strategic plans and enhance tactical lethality.”

Two formations of eight C-17 Globemaster III aircraft delivered more than 1,000 paratroopers throughout the Area of Responsibility and were viewed live by the Under Secretary of the U.S. Army at Malemute Drop Zone. This was the first time a personnel static line jump has occurred on Hawaii Island due to the treacherous terrain, and the first time the U.S. Army 2nd Brigade, 11th Airborne Division has ever conducted dual Airborne Operations into Hawaii and back into Alaska, demonstrating their Jungle and Arctic capabilities for INDOPACOM.

The provision of logistics and personnel services, which accounted for hundreds of service members, became an obstacle to overcome. Soldiers learned critical elements of conducting joint planning with their Airmen counterparts including how to plan more efficiently, what some of their limiting factors were, and how to plan more effectively for future missions.

“It was a massive challenge to develop load plans to accommodate 650 personnel, 1,100 parachutes, heavy drop platforms, arctic rucksacks, and over a week of sustainment commodities,” said Shea. “We overcame many of these challenges through constant communication with our Air Force partners and planners. We would not have been able to overcome these challenges without Tech. Sgt. Paul ‘Makaio’ Roberts’ expertise in load planning and his work to liaise with Hilo International Airport.”

Roberts, 204th Airlift Squadron lead loadmaster planner for JPMRC 24-01, was one of the loadmaster planners for Arctic Aloha and was critical to the mission’s success. He served as one of the liaisons between the service branches and sheds light on what he believes helped to make the exercise run smoothly.

“Relationships are key, and being able to share how we operate within the Hawaii Air National Guard is priceless. We all have respect and Aloha for each other,” said Roberts. “It creates a sense of worth, and a sense of ownership in something that we all take pride in and ultimately produces a successful outcome for operations.”

Arctic Aloha’s accomplishments were a result of the interoperability of joint forces, highlighting the combined effects a joint team can produce. INDOPACOM’s effectiveness is nested in its Subordinate Component Commands capability to synergize their effects, which yields lethality and freedom of maneuver for the Joint Force within the theater. As displayed in Arctic Aloha and JPMRC, these effects are amplified when combining the TFI of Active Duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command as they each bring unique capabilities to the fight.