62nd Airlift Wing takes to the skies in history-making joint exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Whitney Taylor
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 62nd Airlift Wing partnered with fellow mobility forces and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division for a joint forcible entry exercise, Dec. 8 through 11 here.

The purpose of the exercise, which featured a record-breaking C-17 Globemaster III formation of 36 aircraft, was threefold: to practice taking operational control in an emergency situation; to support training for future weapons officers; and to reinforce the need for cohesion among airborne allies when operating in a threat environment.   

“JFE is a joint effort primarily between the Air Force and Army to seize operational initiative in a crisis,” said Maj. Kristen Smith, 7th Airlift Squadron assistant operations officer. “The JFE sortie prioritizes the C-17 and C-130 [Hercules] weapons school students, requiring them to determine the best course of action to employ the necessary aircraft to deliver equipment by both airdrop and air-land while operating in a simulated threat environment. The threat environment enforces the integration required with other airborne assets in order to meet the objective.”

Among those assets were C-17s from McChord; Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Travis Air Force Base, California.

With so many aircraft involved, having world-class maintenance support was crucial to the success of the JFE.

“Our role was providing all the aircraft and aerial port support required,” said Col. Anthony Babcock, 62nd Maintenance Group commander. “We make sure all the aircraft are mission-ready and have the necessary systems that enable the aircraft to fly in a formation of that size. We also provide the aerial port support in terms of loading any cargo, passengers or paratroopers that would go on those airplanes for airdrop.”

With McChord contributing more than a dozen aircraft of its own, the ability of the 62nd MXG to make ready a large number of C-17s on a condensed timeline was tested like never before.

“On a daily basis we are flying missions out of McChord constantly and, generally, we are flying one airplane at a time which allows us to move resources back and forth from one aircraft to another, taking the people, tools and equipment that were working and moving them all to the next mission,” Babcock said. “With a big exercise like the JFE, we were doing 15 or more airplanes at a time requiring our Airmen to perform more independently.”

Junior Airmen were charged with the responsibility of preparing, loading and readying the aircraft for launch while supervisors provided the oversight required to execute tasks safely.

“We’ve got great Airmen,” Babcock said. “They’ve got great training and can execute their mission, so for us it was an opportunity to prove to the Airmen themselves, as well as others that our maintenance team can do this mission without a lot of input from leadership.”

Smith echoed the colonel’s sentiments.

“Out of McChord Field, with coordination between the air traffic control tower, ground and maintenance, we were able to depart 17 C-17s in formation in less than 13 minutes,” Smith explained. “Team McChord’s performance was outstanding. Maintenance was crucial to ensuring all 14 KTCM aircraft departed and operated flawlessly.” [Note: KTCM is the airport location identifier for Joint Base Lewis-McChord.]

Though exercises like the JFE often move at break-neck speed and push organizations beyond normal operating ability, the operational experience gained cannot be overstated.

“This exercise details the future of conflict for the U.S. Air Force and its joint and international partners,” Smith said. “It provides valuable training that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. This training ensures our Airmen are prepared for the next conflict.”

In addition to the C-17, other aircraft flying in support of the JFE were the E-3 Sentry, the MQ-9 Reaper, the C-130 Hercules, the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer, the KC-10 Extender, the HH-60 Pave Hawk, the KC-135 Stratotanker, the F-15C and F-15E Eagle, the A-10 Thunderbolt, the EA-18G Growler, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.