1,500+ Airmen and Soldiers conduct mass airfield seizure exercise in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. N. Alicia Halla
  • 176 WG/PA

The office bustled with olive green jumpsuits, the smell of pizza and a dozen conversations dropping terms such as "sorties" and "objective." At the white board near a high table covered in maps, a 6-foot-plus commander in a flight suit bearing the 144 Airlift Squadron patch scribbled information and directed various personnel.


Ring, ring. "Mission planning cell," another serious face answered one of the uniformly black, office phones.


The mission planning cell was the eyes and ears of the air and ground forces commanders, assigned to the task of command-and-control for the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise's many moving parts.


More than 1,500 service members drawn from Alaska, Oregon and Guam came together for a large joint-force exercise here and at Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, from June 4 to June 9.


The Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (JFEX) -- a giant undertaking by the Alaska Air National Guard's 176 Operations Group, U.S. Army Alaska's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron and the Air Force's Guam-based 36th Contingency Response Group -- demonstrated close cooperation and the ability to project combat power.


The six-day event involved a mock airfield seizure from enemy forces, multiple airdrops, and airlift transport of more than 500 tons of cargo and more than 650 Soldiers and Airmen. It included a jump with more than 500 paratroopers, intelligence reconnaissance, simulated firefights, a medical evacuation exercise, air traffic control and more.


Exercise organizers attributed its success to the flexibility and positive attitudes of the entire team.


"Sometimes people focus on why we can't," said Army Col. Matt McFarlane, the JFEX ground forces commander and 4/25 BCT commander. "We focused on how we can."


Planning began in October 2013 and required considerable collaboration between participants and critical support from other agencies such as the 3rd Operation Group; the 176, 773rd and 673d logistics readiness squadrons; and the 176 Maintenance Group.


The Alaska Air Guard's 176 Wing, with its wide range of missions, was able to furnish support normally requiring several wings. For example, the original plans called for preparing only 12 aircraft, and wing maintainers were able to provide 16 mission-ready aircraft -- including the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter and HC-130 King aircraft -- for more than 70 flying missions during the exercise. They were able to repair aircraft in 45 minutes - work that usually takes four days, according to Lt. Col. Michael Griesbaum, the 176 Operations Group deputy commander, who served as deputy air forces commander for the exercise.


Unforeseen factors required speedy cooperation by support agencies. Changes included moving the original drop zone for the paratroopers from Allen Air Field at Fort Greely to Malamute Drop Zone on JBER due to unsafe wind conditions. 


The organizations achieved interoperability -- working together to achieve service-specific training, learning each other's terminology, and building stronger relationships.


"The intention is to continue these mutually-beneficial large force exercises in the future," said Col. Blake Gettys, the 176 Operations Group commander, who served as the exercise's air forces commander.