Shaw AFB accelerates ACE abilities during Iron Hand

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jacob Gutierrez
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to Joint Base Charleston, touches down in a remote airfield unloading cargo and a small group of Airmen from within. The Airmen deplane in a single file line, wearing patches from squadrons across their home installation. Out here, the individual patches will lose significance as they combine their knowledge and training to execute a mission that requires a united skillset.

They will sweep the airfield, ensuring that they and their cargo can safely be unloaded into the contingency location. They will secure and continue to monitor the space; vigilance necessary for both expeditionary skills training and a mission to recover and quickly regenerate combat F-16 Fighting Falcon airpower. This team is the beginning of a new generation of multi-capable Airmen; a team that can execute their mission in any environment in an increasingly demanding battle landscape.

The team from the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw AFB, alongside Airmen from the 628th Air Base Wing and 437th Air Wing at JB Charleston, evaluated their ability to build lean and easily mobilized packages of equipment and personnel to operate out of an austere location, perform integrated combat turns, and conduct consistent surveillance during an agile combat employment exercise, Iron Hand 22-09, Aug. 22-25.

“Our Airmen have an extremely diverse range of skills,” said Col. Kristoffer Smith, 20th FW commander. “Iron Hand 22-09 is a prime opportunity for collaboration and exchanging those skills so that when it’s time to apply them in the field, they are like muscle memory.”

Exercise IH 22-09 was developed as a proof of concept for Airmen to train in a contingency location in an unfamiliar geographic situation. The small team comprised Airmen from multiple Air Force specialty codes, such as security forces and civil engineering, embodied the multi-capable Airmen model by receiving specialized security forces and medical training prior to their exercise deployment and then applying their primary mission skill sets like aircraft maintenance, weapons loading, and fueling in the field–all in order to become more agile in their mission execution.

The exercise required establishing and maintaining a high operations tempo within the North Auxiliary Airfield which necessitated the entire team to be properly trained and ready to defend the area and assets within.

“A place like [North Auxiliary Airfield] is going to take around 19 people, but we’re only going to have around four defenders,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Holloman, 20th Security Forces Squadron weapons and tactics officer in charge and IH 22-09 range safety officer. “So, everybody ends up having to pull security because that is our number one priority. If we’re not secure, then we can’t perform the operations.”

Under the instruction of the subject matter experts, the team began training in concepts such as weapons manipulation and fundamentals, both necessary to guaranteeing the site would remain secure with a limited official security forces presence.

“Once we have offensive security established and the bed down is set up, we start facilitating people to augment the defenders,” Holloman said. “They will then go out and help us build and secure defensive fighting positions and we will, all as a team, continue to maintain security overall.”

After securing the area, the Airmen developed their abilities to serve the essential function of their mission; recover and deliver airpower. This was primarily done by utilizing integrated combat turns, consisting of rapid refueling and munitions loading of F-16s from the 55th Fighter Squadron.

The integrated combat turn is one of many concepts during IH 22-09 that were implemented with the ability to generate out of areas with unknown levels of capacity, infrastructure and support while being operationally variable.

“It’s all about predictability,” said 1st Lt. Alyssa Beyler, 77th Fighter Generation Squadron sortie generation flight commander and IH 22-09 mission commander. “The point of the contingency locations is that we have the ability to choose where we want to go and we can continuously move those options.”

Within the short lifespan of a contingency location, multi-capable Airmen teams are moving without interruption to ensure viability for their mission. The team executed multiple skill sets all normally performed by Airmen in different Air Force specialties to ensure a more maneuverable and leaner force on the ground.

“Everyone out here has multiple duty titles,” Beyler said. “It’s a small footprint, for quick movement.”

The future of agile combat employment and the development of the multi-capable Airman concept is a continuous focus for the 20th Fighter Wing. Through dedicated training opportunities, such as Exercise IH 22-09, Shaw AFB Airmen will continue to ensure combat readiness and sharpen tactical proficiency needed for a ready force capable of safeguarding the nation, its allies and interests abroad.

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