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62d Airlift Wing provides global airlift during U.S. Army, USAFE-AFAFRICA led DEFENDER 23

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Callie Norton
  • 62d Airlift Wing Public Affairs

“There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” – Winston Churchill.

Earlier this month, six C-17 Globemaster IIIs assigned to the 62d Airlift Wing departed Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to participate in Exercise Swift Response, a subset of DEFENDER 23, in Europe, May 6-20, 2023.

They were joined by three C-130J Hercules assigned to the 403rd Wing based at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, and ten A-10 Thunderbolt IIs assigned to the 442nd Fighter Wing based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to provide air mobility and fighter power to European skies in support of DEFENDER 23.

As an annual joint U.S. Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF)-led exercise, DEFENDER 23 is supported by U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA). The large-scale exercise consists of more than 7,800 U.S. and 15,000 multi-national, NATO and non-NATO, participating service members and is designed to build readiness and interoperability of U.S. Ally and partner forces.

As one of three exercises falling under DEFENDER 23, Swift Response is one of the premier military crisis response training events for multinational airborne forces in the world.

During Swift Response, U.S. Air Force assets operated primarily in Estonia, Greece, Italy and Spain, testing the participants’ ability to conduct simultaneous joint forceable entry airborne operations, enhancing interoperability between Allies and regional partners.

“A unique aspect was that the operations within Swift Response 23 were led by the ‘Castillejos’ Division Headquarters in Spain, as opposed to a conventional U.S. unit such as the 82nd Airborne Division or 173rd Airborne Brigade,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph Carl, pilot with the 7th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

The 7th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron assigned to JBLM, flew alongside other NATO mobility and combat aircraft, with paratroopers from the U.S. Army, Spain and the Netherlands.

Additionally, five C-17s executed airland operations from Aviano Air Base, Italy, into Larissa Airfield, Greece, in order to build combat power for the ground forces scheme of maneuver. One C-17 also transported two High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems from Latvia to Estonia for a live-fire mission into the Baltic Sea.

Alongside U.S. Allies and coalition partners, the U.S. Air Force continues to improve speed, posture, transparency and alignment.

“Swift Response strengthens relationships with our partners and allies and signals to our adversaries our ability to quickly aggregate combat power in Europe or anywhere else,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Sergio Anaya, 62d Operations Group commander and Swift Response air mission commander. “This in turn increases the lethality of the NATO alliance. The exercise enhanced readiness at every level in a complex joint, multinational environment by leveraging the capabilities of our Allies as we deter adversaries through the projection of power.”

New strategic concepts, continuing investment in critical military capabilities, implementing enhanced readiness, and pursuing a robust array of operations, missions and activities, demonstrates the Air Force’s combined ability to defend, and assure our Allies and partners.

Under the Air Force Force Generation model (AFFORGEN), the 7th Airlift Squadron is tasked at the highest level in supporting real-world missions and was also tasked to support a large-scale exercise, which differs largely from previous iterations of Swift Response.

“The 7th EAS team learned a lot—and due to the nature of AFFORGEN, most of the members belonged to the same squadron [7th AS] which helped build a more cohesive unit,” said Anaya.

Swift Response was a total force effort, receiving support from an additional C-17 crew from the 315th Airlift Wing, a reserve unit located at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., aligning with current Air Force efforts to build on Agile Combat Employment (ACE).

“Another critical component to the success of the 7th EAS was the support that we received from the 62nd Operations Support Squadron,” said Anaya. “The OSS provided intelligence personnel which integrated a tactical scenario to our operations. This critical support increased the realism of what this exercise is all about.” 

The OSS also offered support from the Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) team to ensure all of the flight equipment to include Night Vison Goggles were ready to use in each operation.

Exercising elements of Agile Combat Employment enables U.S. forces in Europe to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support, ensuring Airmen and aircrews are postured to deliver lethal combat power across the spectrum of military operations.

“One of the most important aspects of these type of large-scale exercises are the relationships that you build with your partners and allies,” said Anaya. “The relationships forged in these exercises are the foundations that will be required when we execute these types of operations under a different environment. This team is willing and able to execute Swift Response anytime, anywhere.”