ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The 461st and 116th Air Control Wings, and the 138th Military Intelligence Company, with support from the 78th Air Base Wing, recently put their knowledge to the test at the Team JSTARS 2020 Operational Readiness Assessment.
The exercise unfolded at various locations around Robins Air Force Base and the Perry, Georgia, Airport.
Senior Master Sgt. Johnnie Bone, Inspector General superintendent for the 461st ACW, said all four play area locations were part of the same event and were simulated to take place in three distinct locations throughout a simulated Pacific Air Forces theater.
“We tested both of the Team JSTARS Total Force Integration Wings’ ability to generate, employ, and sustain primary mission operations in a contested, degraded, multi-domain environment,” he said. “This involved maintaining the ability to project air power while responding to a range of threats from conventional to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear threats.”
As Team JSTARS geared up for their mission, the 78th Security Forces Squadron was on the scene, ensuring flight crews were secured and verified to enter the restricted area.
“This was accomplished by meeting the crew prior to flight and verifying they had access to the area via their restricted area badges,” said Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Lombardo, Operations superintendent for the 78th SFS. “This was accomplished in a designated area prior to entering the restricted area to ensure their training requirements for a chemical environment could be completed.”
Lombardo said it’s often difficult for the crew to don their chemical flight gear and then try to maneuver to the aircraft, so his Airmen were there to make the process smoother.
“Meeting them ahead of time ensured all training requirements were met and allowed for mission objectives to be completed,” he said.
Like most operations, Lombardo said security is crucial with all operations.
“It demonstrated the ability for mission support capabilities to ensure mission requirements in a chemical environment could be accomplished,” he said. “Security is a huge priority in any military operation, but the ability to adjust to meet mission partners’ needs is why airpower is so effective. It is a team effort.”
Throughout the readiness exercise, Airmen were tested on conducting their primary mission while reacting to simulated attacks, protecting assets and donning chemical gear.
The uniqueness of Team JSTARS was showcased in the framework of this exercise and the multiple locations in which it occurred, Bone said.
Chad Kale, director of inspections in the 116th ACW IG Office, said the 116th ACW tested their ability to generate, employ, and sustain operations in a degraded environment while battling a CBRN threat.
“This major command validated exercise ensured Headquarters Air Force knew the overall effectiveness and readiness of the 116th ACW,” Kale said. “Airmen gained confidence in the donning of the Aircrew Chemical Defense Equipment and the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology during the exercise. The more we exercise our readiness muscle safely, the more effective our team will be in future state responses and combatant command support.”
With Team JSTARS operations tempo so high, exercises like these help the Airmen stay ready, Kale said.
“With the extremely high demand for JSTARS support during domestic natural disasters and the support of five separate combatant commands, our Airmen need to be ready to deploy to any location in the world,” he said. “Exercises like this, concentrating on specific operational plans and available resources, are vital to the Air National Guard’s ability to quickly mobilize, generate and fly combat sorties in the future.”
Master Sgt. Cassandra Denton, 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron Plans & Programs section chief, said in addition to participating in the exercise, the 53rd ATCS, part of the 461st ACW, conducted a second article testing of a solar panel system, as well as operationally testing a mobile broadband communications kit in austere field conditions.
“We are excited about both items as this will help us be more self-sufficient in the field,” she said.
Besides giving a refresher to skills, Denton said readiness exercises allow units to find strengths, isolate weak spots, and identify unknown non-compliances that are not as easy to pinpoint with just table top exercises.
Denton said as a mobility unit, the 53rd ATCS conducts exercises of various levels, intensities and scopes quarterly to provide deployable air traffic control, navigational aids and airfield management capabilities.
“We conduct exercises routinely to maintain proficiency in providing airfield operations capabilities in an austere or isolated location,” she said.
While the units within Team JSTARS have been conducting multiple small scale training exercises during the last 12 months, Bone said the 461st and 116th ACWs, as a whole, have not conducted an exercise of this scale since 2012.
“Readiness exercises offer a safe and controlled environment to develop muscle memory for responses to situations in which the survivability and lethality of Air Force capabilities is tested,” he said. “The lessons learned from these exercises help shape future tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure personnel and systems can continue to thrive when the normal operating environment has been disrupted. Exercises such as this one ensure our Team JSTARS Airmen have the skills needed to fight tonight and tomorrow.”
Bone said full scale exercises such as this recent one provide a realistic assessment of trained personnel in a controlled environment.
“During the exercise, Airmen used critical thinking and rapid problem solving to overcome complex and realistic problems,” he said. “Global threats are constantly evolving. The men and women of Team JSTARS must be ready.”
Editor’s Note: The 461st Air Control Wing, 116th Air Control Wing and the 138th Military Intelligence Company jointly operate the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft out of Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.