The 61st Airlift Squadron recently completed a multi-week, off-station training event spanning across Boise, Idaho, Key West, Florida, and Wilmington, North Carolina, March 8-28.
Completing 106 sorties, 254 flying hours, and nearly 2,000 training events, the 61st AS, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron, and 19th Operations Support Squadron sought to tackle Agile Combat Employment, distributed operations, and the Multi-Capable Airmen concept.
“As we continue to accelerate change, we have to think outside the box on how we train,” said Capt. Dmytro Pichkur, 61st AS pilot and OST mission commander. “This OST provided a venue to test how the C-130 (Hercules) fits into the picture of the future fight, while simultaneously reducing our overall footprint.”
In order to get after an ever-evolving ACE construct, the Air Force aims to challenge Airmen to step out of their comfort zones and train them on tasks not defined by their Air Force specialty codes.
While in Boise, the 61st AS got their first look at MCA training. Integrating with the 821st Crisis Response Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, pilots, loadmasters and maintainers were trained on how to set up a barebones forward operating base with enough infrastructure to spend a few nights at an austere location.
Throughout the remainder of the week, aircrews focused on mountain low-level training while operating out of high-altitude airfields. To close out the first week, the 61st AS integrated with Soldiers from the 19th Special Forces Group, conducting high-altitude low open and static-line personnel drops, and mass container delivery system airdrops into simulated contested environments.
In week two, which took place in Key West the aircrew trained on combat search and rescue operations, in which two C-130Js scanned the water for a simulated downed aircraft and dropped a sea rescue kit to the downed crew.
“The search and rescue operations enabled us to train something we aren’t able to organically replicate at home station,” Pichkur said. “Conducting this in a distributed environment, operating out of a hangar, we solidified our ability to execute distributed operations and utilize the full capabilities of all our crews within a short notification window.”
While operating out of the distributed environment, the 61st AS used this time to ensure nearly 50 Airmen received MCA training and qualifications in both tent setup and forklift operations.
“We can’t always expect to have an established base to operate out of,” Pichkur said. “We have to remain self-sufficient without the entire support system we are used to having, while also being able to move quickly between locations, whether it’s to degrade the enemies capability to target our location or to remain agile in combat,.”
To improve agility, the 61 AS aim to minimize the footprint and establish cross-communication between AFSCs, which instills a better understanding of the roles all Airmen play in mission success.
“By our pilots and loadmasters receiving forklift training, we are able to bring a forklift with us to any location around the world and upload and download cargo without outside support,” said Master Sgt. Roy Hill, 61st AS loadmaster. “I believe every loadmaster should receive this training as it adds a certain flexibility that we need in order to stay light-footed and ready.”
To close out the capstone event, the 61st AS joined exercise Razor Talon, hosted by the 4th Fighter Wing from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. Razor Talon is a quarterly ACE and large-force composite training exercise that allows the Air Force to train in a fully-developed threat scenario environment with joint and combined warfighters across multiple domains.
Building up to the final week, the 61st AS developed and tested new techniques for briefing and debriefing crews on the road with minimal support.
“This was the first time we utilized electronic means to brief the aircrew with our mission planning cell at a separate location,” Pichkur said. “This really set us up for the Razor Talon exercise because our MPC was geographically separated at Seymour Johnson (AFB) while we were operating out of Wilmington International Airport.”
As more of a traditional ACE exercise, the four C-130J’s and their aircrew focused primarily on supporting the warfighters while honing skills in a distributed operations environment.
“Our participation included fighting our way into a contested location and providing integrated combat turns by transporting an R-11 fuel truck and the required maintenance personnel, and conducting a wet-wing defuel onto an F-15E Strike Eagle,” Pichkur said.
Upon completion, this OST validated lessons learned from previous ACE exercises while also demonstrating what it looks like for a 4-Ship Lite of C-130s and supporting personnel to operate for three weeks straight, out of multiple locations.
“We continue to aggressively expand our agile combat airlift capabilities by integrating with combat Air Forces and joint partners in very dynamic and fluid training exercises,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Miller, 61st AS commander. “Echoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.‘s sentiment of ‘good enough today will fail tomorrow,’ we must continue to push the limits and showcase what we as mobility Airmen bring to the fight.”