Liberators Host South Pacific Air Force Multi-Mission Exercise > Air National Guard > Article Display
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — More than 160 members of the 459th Air Refueling Wing recently participated in an eight-day field exercise at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, testing the wing’s ability to deploy 5,000 miles to a location with limited infrastructure, and to perform expeditionary wing functions.
The South Pacific Air Force multi-mission exercise, held July 22-30, 2022, is the wing’s first-ever exercise scheduled to assess warfighter resiliency in a contested, degraded and limited environment on the operational plan while testing the wing’s capabilities to provide a focused response to air mobility tasks and incorporation of air combat support executing elements. The exercise balanced the wing’s ability to deploy and operate in a chemically exposed environment and meet the demands necessary to fight a peer adversary in the Indo-PACOM theater.
Members of every wing unit, including wing personnel and medical squadrons, participated in this historic exercise to develop their skills and capabilities, and demonstrate innovative solutions to logistical challenges to maintain an airbase simulated with limited support from the “host nation” while generating aircraft needed in combat between peer adversaries. While in theater, the 756th Air Refueling Squadron partnered with the Hawaii Air National Guard to fly in formation at night and refuel fifth generation fighters.
“SPAM was a great opportunity to introduce Airmen to the Indo-PACOM theater,” said Maj. Michael Doris, exercise project officer. “They experienced the challenges of operating in a contested environment and were able to test themselves by offering innovative solutions in their career fields.”
The exercise not only tested each member’s ability to innovate and overcome the challenges presented by a dangerous and hostile environment, but it also provided opportunities to work with other forces.
“It gave them the chance to work with partner agencies and enabled them to work in a common environment,” Doris said. “And for many of them, it was their first time.”
Doris further explained that one of the goals of the exercise was to establish an integrated joint force and civilian medical team capable of responding to medical emergencies. This activity included in-flight surgery, engine operation under load, and medical evacuation operations. Working with the National Defense Medical System was a first for the Wing’s medical staff. And NDMS civilian personnel were in “fighting” with their military medical counterparts who participated throughout the exercise.
“The 459th Critical Care Airlift Team demonstrated a whole-of-government force multiplier with its civilian counterparts in the National Disaster Medical System as they worked to transport, treat and transfer critical care patients, and also make ‘advancing healthcare in the air’ that would lead to immediate and lasting impacts in future conflicts,” said Lt. Col. Robert Flemming, commanding officer of the 459th Aerospace Medicine Squadron.
Senior Staff Sgt. Aaron Widner, Superintendent, Inspector General’s Office of Inspections, gave some examples of joint activities. He said the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron received training from the Army’s 25th Infantry Division to transport patients by helicopter. Additionally, the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing provided training on patient moving equipment.
Leveraging these relationships helped members meet sustainment, support, and transportation requirements throughout the exercise. This was critical to mission success and provided Airmen with the opportunity to exercise the innovation and adaptation necessary to succeed within the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) construct. ACE is the way of the future as it is a key operational concept for how the Air Force will fight in a modern, contested environment.
“It allowed us to introduce the Multi-Capable Airman concept,” Doris said. “We elevated everyone’s expeditionary skills, and they got to see what MCA means to them in their career fields.”
Additional connections show that members of the wing were integrated with local aviation personnel to receive training in aircraft formation, which was very beneficial to air carriers who needed to work on the development of this skill. Training in airfield operations and the use of aviation group equipment was also provided.
There are other examples of innovation and teamwork that have also grown from the exercise, such as the augmentation of medical support infrastructure by the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron and the ANG of Hawaii, and the expanded use of equipment and training between the 459th Command Post, Space Force and the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron which combined to perform command and control very efficient. Exercise planners said the exercise proved beneficial to the wing’s mission.
“The SPAM allowed the wing to see its strengths as well as its needs to get after the top end fight,” Widner said.
“The exercise showed how invaluable hands-on training opportunities like this can be with our Medical Airmen, especially in how we respond with innovative tactics in a high-stress environment and strategic thinking before and after. the event,” Flemming said.
“I intended to push our Airmen, myself included, to operate in a difficult environment to see how we would react,” said Col. Greg Buchanan, commander of the 459th ARW. “I wanted to see the innovation. I wanted to see the teamwork. I wanted to see the communication. They did not disappoint. As the Air Force Chief of Staff said, we must accelerate change or lose, and our members have proven they can make quick, smart adjustments and improvements under pressure.
“It was a golden opportunity for us to set a benchmark for the wing and move forward and progress as we look to do similar activities in the future,” Doris said.
Many entities were involved to ensure the success of the exercise. The 459th worked with members of the U.S. Army’s 25th Hawaii Infantry Division, National Defense Medical System, Space Force, 25th ASOS and Hawaii Air National Guard during each phase of the exercise. Additionally, airlift support was provided by the 315th Airlift Wing, 445th AW, and 452nd Air Mobility Wing. The 445th’s C-17 Globemaster IIIs and their crews and maintenance teams also participated in aeromedical missions throughout the exercise.