Seven C-17 Globemasters departed McChord Field Tuesday, May 17, to conduct air land and air drop operations as part of a Large Force Exercise at the Mountain Home Range Complex in Idaho.
"This is a proof of concept for Air Mobility Command's next generation exercise Mobility Guardian," said Maj. Sean McConville, 62nd Airlift Wing Tactics Director. "We didn't necessarily exercise all the capabilities in legacy Rodeo (previous exercises) that we wanted to. AMC leadership asked us to rebuild Rodeo as a flag-level exercise for the Mobility Air Forces."
With a team of five and just a few short weeks, Capt. Chris Wojtowicz and Capt. Joseph Fry, C-17 pilots, successfully coordinated the mission plan for countless aircrews to put their skills to the test during this specific training.
The McChord tails teamed up with F-15 Strike Eagles from the 389th Fighter Squadron and 366th Operations Support Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base to simulate operating in a non-permissive environment.
"We decided to do a joint forcible entry operation as part of Mobility Guardian," said McConville. "It's one of the most difficult skillsets that we have on our docket, and with the focus over the last fifteen years on relatively permissive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a significant portion of the crew force - to include the instructor corps - that doesn't even know that they're on the hook for it."
"The Mountain Home Range gives us the airspace and the threat emitters to provide our crews with very high fidelity training. An extraordinary amount of work went into this. Because this is a new thing for a lot of crews here, we wanted to be sure that we were getting it absolutely right."
The F-15s provided detached escort and reactive close air support, a first for McChord local training missions, and the range provided simulated tactical surface-to-air missiles.
The Mountain Home range has both liberal airspace and threat emitters that can replicate hostile radar on a scale that no other base in the region can, according to McConville, which is why this training was unprecedented.
"McChord is leading the way," said McConville. "The AMC commander said he wants us to be ready for operations in semi- and non-permissive environments and to be ready for evolving counter-terrorism threats. This is us doing just that ... four weeks later."
When AMC executes Mobility Guardian, it's not going to be seven C-17s going to execute the mission down in the Mountain Home Range, it's going to be 15 C-17s, 15 C-130s and at least 12 tankers, with a much larger escort package.
"Running through the sortie on a smaller scale gives us the opportunity to build relationships with Air Traffic Control, the 266th Range Squadron, the 389th Fighter Squadron, and it helps us identify some potential stumbling blocks sooner rather than later," said McConville.
This LFE provided more than one first for the McChord C-17 crews.
In fact, it was the first time the crews attempted to connect the data link used by C-17s to the fighter's data link using capabilities in their range.
It was also the first time for a McChord intelligence unit to utilize their Global Rapid Response Intelligence Package in a training scenario.
First Lt. Christy Vachavake, 62nd Operation Support Squadron chief of Intel training, said the GRRIP system is a portable system that attaches to a satellite.
"It can provide access to resources should we need it in an isolated or austere location," said Vachavake. "It is basically an extension of an Intel analyst and it serves as a backup."
The training conducted during this LFE proved to be immeasurable for McConville and the other air crews.
"There are always things to be learned in big exercises," he said. "All in all it was a big win for the 62nd AW because it is the absolute, highest level training that we can get."
McConville said recent operations have seen the C-17 operating in a context that 15 years ago nobody would've ever thought, and by doing this training we are setting up our airmen for success.
"This was Mobility Guardian, but on a smaller scale," he added, "this was a huge win for AMC in general and a case study in the institution of getting it right; leadership at McChord and Mountain Home empowered the operational level to make decisions using existing training resources. What we ended up with was an awesome training opportunity that is greater than the sum of its individual parts."