JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
A mixed aircrew -- comprising members of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron and the U.S. Air Force’s 517th Airlift Squadron -- showed their ability to successfully generate sorties in a hostile environment as part of the Polar Force 19 exercise here April 4.
Polar Force 19 was a two-week exercise designed to test JBER’s ability to rapidly deploy and operate, at short notice, anywhere in the Pacific Theater of operations. The April 4 culmination of the exercise included a mock chemical attack that tested the aircrew’s ability to successfully maneuver in their chemical gear and complete their mission in a contested environment.
Due to the threat of chemical exposure, members were outfitted with the necessary equipment by Alaska Air Guardsmen with the 176th Operations Support Squadron. The OSS members inspected each piece of gear to determine overall fit and use, with special focus on any tears, obstructions, kinks or poor fitting.
“That’s why they’re wearing all this chemical gear right now,” explained Maj. Scott Owen, a pilot with the Air Guard’s 144th Airlift Squadron and lead C-17 Wing Inspection Team (WIT) member.
“In case that [attack] happens, they can continue to get their flight ready to go, while they continue to push it and get airborne – even if there’s chemical exposure while they’re working,”
As an inspector, Owen coordinated with aircraft maintainers, loadmasters and the pilots to ensure the C-17 would be successful with the launch and recover scenario.
The evaluation is critical for Owen and other WIT members across the wing who present their results.
“We take notes, both on the squadron’s ability to work with the scenario they’ve been given and if they were effective with the guidelines they have. Did they get their mission done? But we also take notes and lessons learned for the next exercise, in terms of planning and management,” said Owen.
To ensure a successful sortie, several different squadrons and flights needed to communicate and work together towards the same goal.
“There are so many moving parts. You figure 1,000 moving parts and we’re taking notes and critiquing one or two little tweaks to improve something. I mean, we’ve been launching sorties on time and recovering them safely on time – doing cargo uploads of all this gear, and moving pieces of equipment. It’s really impressive to see,” Owen said.
Polar Force 19 was the first time in six years that the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing and their total-force integration partners, the U.S. Air Force’s 673 Air Base Wing and the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 477th Fighter Group, held a joint deployment-readiness exercise.