New Hampshire Airmen Demonstrate Readiness to Support Allies in Deployment Exercise

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Total Force Airmen from Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, completed a multi-day deployment readiness exercise to Lajes Air Base in the Azores, Portugal, May 1-7.

More than 250 Airmen from the 157th Air Refueling Wing and the 64th Air Refueling Squadron executed the large-scale deployment exercise designed to test their ability to provide rapid generation, employment and sustainment of combat air power and aeromedical evacuation to the European theater in support of NATO allies.

Over the course of the seven-day exercise, the unit mobilized, processed, deployed, sustained, and redeployed hundreds of Airmen; moved all of the equipment and cargo needed for the operation; collaborated with allied nation forces and U.S. European Command organizations; maintained and operated four aircraft, launching 19 sorties across the European Theater; simulated aeromedical evacuation operations; and tested the abilities of Airmen to operate in new and uncertain circumstances, including simulated chemical warfare environments.

The training operation was led by the NH Air National Guard but also involved aeromedical evacuation teams from the Delaware, North Carolina, and Minnesota ANGs, a C-17 from the New York ANG, and a KC-135 from the Utah ANG.

The exercise started May 1, as Airmen arrived at Pease to complete just-in-time training and ensure they met all readiness requirements. Over the next days, crews from across the base finalized documentation, assembled pallets, and configured and loaded cargo into the multiple KC-46 aircraft that would soon launch. The training operation reached full-speed in the early-morning hours of May 4, with Airmen arriving as early as 1 a.m. to out process prior to the four-hour flight to Lajes Air Base.

Within seven hours of the first takeoff, New Hampshire’s only Air National Guard unit had successfully launched eight of its KC-46 aircraft, both in support of the exercise, as well as other operational taskings.

The exercise was the wing’s first under the new Air Force Force Generation (AFFORGEN) model and tested the abilities of Airmen to adapt to unfamiliar locations and uncertain situations. It also operationalized the Agile Combat Environment (ACE) construct.

According to the Air Force, operationalizing ACE will aid in: the codification of a repeatable and understandable process; forces that are suitably organized, trained, and equipped; theaters that are postured with the appropriate equipment, assets and host nation agreements; and robust joint service and partner nation integration and interoperability. Hosting the exercise at the Portuguese-owned Lajes Air Base, within the U.S. European Command theater, enabled the exercise to successfully touch on each aspect of the construct.

One facet of the ACE framework the exercise focused on was the development of the Multi-Capable Airmen the Air Force anticipates it will need in future conflicts. In the Multi-Capable Airman (MCA) framework, Airmen will need to perform their duties with limited resources and in unfamiliar environments, as well as potentially fulfill roles outside their job specialty. The exercise was structured to provide Airmen exposure to some of those roles.

Senior Airman Anna Arnold, a paralegal with the 157th Judge Advocate office, was one Airmen who had this opportunity. Normally an administrative troop who primarily works in an office environment, during the exercise she spent time on the flightline in chemical warfare gear working alongside maintenance Airmen as they prepared to launch some of the 19 aircraft sorties that took place during the course of the exercise.

The maintainers walked the legal Airman through the process of preparing and launching jets, showed her some of the ways they interface with flightdeck instruments to maintain the jet, and gave her a lesson in aircraft marshalling.

“One of the things that struck me was how flexible and adaptable everyone has to be in order to get the jets off the ground,” said Arnold. “There were changes coming and they had to be ready to take action as soon as they came down.”

She also said the experience, which included front-row seating to three back-to-back aircraft launches, helped her understand where she fits into the mission.

“Getting to know the people was really cool and I have more context and experience for the mission I support with my work [as a paralegal],” she said.

Airman 1st Class Stephan Roberts, a first-term Airman with the 157th Logistics Readiness Squadron who joined the NH ANG in 2022, said the mission to Lajes was his first and was an excellent opportunity to meet other teams and see how they do things. It was also his first experience flying aboard a military aircraft.

He said the exercise was a valuable opportunity to get exposed to the operational tempo, see first-hand why things are done in specific ways, and to ask questions. He also had the opportunity to shadow transportation Airmen and help palletize cargo with logistics Airmen.

“The speed things are done, and the ability to move so many people so efficiently and effectively, has been surprising,” he said.

Training plans for the exercise were developed at the squadron level, instead of the top down, one-size-fits-all approach of the past. This allowed leaders to tailor the exercise to the needs of their Airmen and also created unscripted circumstances that required decision making at the lowest level, using the information available, to meet exercise objectives—a key tenant of the ACE framework.

Capt. Charlene Champy, a maintenance officer with the 157th Air Refueling Wing, said the uncertainty associated with maintaining and launching an aircraft from an unfamiliar airfield, the need to make on-the-fly decisions, as well as working closely with the aircrew and other support groups, was a great opportunity for her Airmen, many of whom have never before been on an off-station mission.

“I’m really grateful to see how excited my Airmen are to participate in this exercise,” she said, noting that a number of her off-duty Airmen were still hanging around their work center, as well as the overall boost in morale she has seen in them.

The mission was the 157th’s first large-scale, off-station exercise since before the COVID-19 pandemic—a period that also saw some changes to the demographics of the force. The exercise gave both new and seasoned Airmen a chance to get to know one another, strengthen esprit de corps, morale and resiliency.

This included a facilitated discussions around resiliency in the face of deployments and other life stressors. Senior Airman Eric Wong, a first-term Airman with the 157th Operations Group who joined in 2019, served as one of the facilitators and shared personal stories about adversity he faced in his own life.

Wong said personal resiliency is an important aspect of readiness, especially in the face of growing global threats. As the majority of the audience was made up of junior Airmen on their first overseas mission, like himself, he felt that sharing his personal story would resonate and help them be more ready.

“It’s important to be ready, to be prepared, and this exercise gets everyone’s feet wet, to know what to expect in the future,” he said.
After three days of honing their skills and building relationships at Lajes Air Base, Airmen redeployed to Pease Air National Guard Base and out processed, May 7.

Addressing Airmen at an all-call the evening before redeploying to Pease, Col. Brian Carloni, the 157th Operations Group commander and exercise leader, praised the team for the hard work and long days they put in to make the mission a success.

“We have a different team and a different mission,” he said, alluding to the changing demographics and the unit’s recent transition from the KC-135 to the KC-46. “But these exercises are the things that build the bonds that form a fighting force.”

Carloni said the exercise demonstrated the unit’s readiness and resolve to meet our adversaries head on and will likely serve as a model for future exercises across the Air National Guard.

“We set out to see if we could, and we sure showed them at we can and will continue in the future,” he said. “We’ve never been more ready and this is a huge testament to how capable our Airmen are.”