Total force effort enables Misawa exercise
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The 35th Fighter Wing reached out to an unlikely source to help support a weeklong operational readiness exercise that wrapped up here March 5.
Misawa needed to transport dozens of Airmen to the Republic of Korea in support of the exercise, but lacked airlift transportation. Nearly 2,000 miles away at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, the majority of Pacific Air Force's airlift assets were heavily involved in Cope North, a massive exercise featuring about 50 aircraft from multiple nations. And Misawa's F-16 Fighting Falcons are equipped to fight, not transport.
That's where California Air National Guard came in.
Back at PACAF headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, members of the 613th Air Operations Center jumped into action by contacting Air National Guard and Reserve units on the west coast of the U.S. asking who had the capability to support. The Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing out of Channel Islands, California, responded to the call by offering up two C-130J Hercules from their 115th Airlift Squadron to make the mission happen.
PACAF bases typically interact with each other during unit level exercises, and bringing a guard unit from the U.S. to support one was previously unheard of.
"This was a huge shift in thinking of who we can use in local exercises," said Lt. Col. Kevin Lord, 35 FW inspector general, who coordinated Misawa's aspect of the operation. "It's awesome to have the total force capability when we need it."
It took some remarkable background work to make the mission happen, including PACAF funding military personnel appropriation days for the guard unit and the 35 FW covering the crews' per diem and lodging costs. The trip essentially cost as much as it would have to support any local PACAF crew, while offering up rare, invaluable experience.
Preparation time was also cut dramatically for the Cali crew, and Lt. Col. Chris Dougherty, 115 AS Director of Operations, said they were only allotted two weeks instead of the usual six months of prep time for a deployment. He said many guard members work separate fulltime jobs, and it can be tough getting time off in such short notice.
"You have to have a willing unit who wants to participate, making it beneficial to everyone," Lord said. "Without them stepping up, our exercise couldn't have happened."
Along with common logistics associated with flying operations, a few hurdles needed to be jumped to make the mission a success. Because Misawa isn't accustomed to preparing loads with C-130Js, Dougherty's team needed to develop full load plans with the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron here.
"Every deployment or movement we have out of Misawa has its own special quirks and challenges," said Tech. Sgt. Letitia Nuelken, who oversaw the 35 LRS deployment process. "It's important to work between active duty and the Air National Guard; we get to see how our stateside counterparts operate and they get to see how our wing operates in PACAF."
In December, Misawa carried out exercise Beverly Sunrise 15-1, a full-scale exercise that actually deployed Airmen to the Republic of Korea and allowed Misawa Airmen that stayed back to employ their wartime efforts from home. Aircraft from multiple PACAF bases flew crews throughout Asia, creating a robust and new way of exercising. Previously, the entire base simulated a deployment and never physically left the home station.
Thanks to the support from PACAF and the California ANG, Misawa was able to maintain the standard as they teamed up with the 51st Fighter Wing in Osan AB, Republic of Korea, who exercised alongside them in this ORE, Beverly Sunrise 15-2.
They took the training a step further this time around, and on their flight back from Osan to Misawa, the ANG crew took the opportunity to execute an on-the-fly aeromedical evacuation exercise with the 35th Medical Group and medics from Kadena AB, Japan. Dozens of Misawa medics awaited their arrival and quickly transported groups of simulated patients from the back of the aircraft onto awaiting buses before rushing them to the base hospital.
It was the first time Misawa has ever exercised a C-130 medical evacuation, and Capt. Mike Bernabe, 35 MDG readiness flight chief, said the true challenge was not knowing exactly what to expect.
"Our flexibility was tested," Bernabe said, citing unfamiliar aircraft structure and manual patient offloading. "But it was the perfect scenario for what we would face in a real-world situation. After seeing our professionals in action, there's no doubt patients are going to receive top care when coming to Misawa."
Bernabe said the 35 MDG approached the exercise focused on hitting main objectives, including pre-deployment support, overarching aeromedical support, maintaining local care and effective posture for follow-on patients from deployed locations - largely made possible by airlift counterparts.
"Hats off to the Air National Guard team for their role in this process," Bernabe said. "They were up to the challenge and provided us with everything we could have asked for."
For many ANG crew members, it was the first time they've been any further west than Guam.
"I don't know if I'd call it a typical operation," said Maj. Tim Greenler, C-130J pilot with the 115 AS. "In an exercise of this scale, we're just one of the many moving parts and they all have to work together smoothly."
By all estimations, things worked smoothly - both sides emphasized the desire to work together in the future if ever called upon.
"A big takeaway for us was having these 20-year guardsmen - who were extremely experienced and well-versed - highlight our strengths and weaknesses," Lord said. "Having these pros around was huge in setting us up for success in the future."
Lord also said it's a great opportunity for the ANG to get their foot in the door on experiencing major PACAF combat operations, as they would almost certainly be called on in a real-world situation.
"This exercise really showed how valuable every entity is to the total force," he said. "Anytime you have the opportunity to integrate multiple assets, you capitalize. It shows what we're capable of as an Air Force."