News: US Forces conduct JFEX in The Last Frontier
Story by Sgt. Eric-James Estrada
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska- More than 400 paratroopers and Airmen participated in a large scale exercise at Fort Greely, Alaska, June 7-10, 2014. The Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (JFEX) included an airborne jump and trained paratroopers to get on the ground quickly and efficiently.
Spartan paratroopers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), from JBER, Alaska, hosted the three-day JFEX on the Donnelly Training Area which started on June 7 and ended in the early morning hours of June 10.
The JFEX included interoperability training to jointly seize an airfield, establish and expand a lodgment to include follow-on missions. Airmen of the U.S. Air Force’s 176th Wing from JBER, provided airlift support, the Oregon National Guard’s 125th Special Tactics Squadron, controlled the aircraft, and the 36th Contingency Response Group, 736th Security Forces Squadron based out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, provided security and running the airfield in terms of marshaling the aircraft and unloading and offloading all vehicles, pallets and equipment.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Tobin Magsig, a native of Nashville, Tenn. and commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, said, “Today demonstrates one, the capability of the joint force, but two, the flexibility.
The JFEX started off with a heavy-equipment drop of howitzers and military vehicles parachuting to the ground at the Donnelly Drop Zone at DTA for the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment. The Spartan Steel Battalion provided counter fires capability in the event of indirect fire on the airfield. During the drop, three of the 11 loads received some damage as heavy winds pushed them before they landed on the drop zone. The heavy winds, which were within the limits for a heavy drop, were not within safety measures for personnel. A nearby forest fire that began to escalate within the area of the planned airfield seizer forced the Spartan paratroopers and Air Force jumpers to come up with a new plan, and quickly.
“We changed the location of the drop zone over 200 miles away in less than three hours based on hearing word on the severity of the fires,” said the 501st commander. “After the force conducted its airborne operation, we reconvened a team and conducted an air land here at Allen Army Airfield. Although we’re getting here a little later then we planned, we’re still going to be able to conduct our training and achieve our training objectives.”
Since coming back from their recent training rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., the brigade has found some areas they can improve on.
“Last month the battalion went to the [JRTC] and that was fantastic training, but like all our training events there were some things that we could have done better,” said Magsig. “There are several … training objectives that each company has that we’re going to work and weave into this exercise from a groundside. The air component brings their own set of training objectives. What’s important is that we work together and maximize our interoperability to achieve each other’s training objectives.”
For the 36th CRG stationed at Guam, this is their first time working with the Spartan Brigade and training up here in The Last Frontier.
Air Force Master Sgt. Somchai Rollins, a member of the 36th CRG said, “This is a new partnership that we have been building, but we do have other airborne units that are security forces that have jumped in through [JFEX] at Fort Bragg and with the 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning. So for this theatre, this is the first time we’ve done this, but throughout the Air Force, we have done it before.”
The 36th CRG is a rapid-deployment unit designed to aid airborne units in securing an airfield and establishing and maintaining airfield operations. Coming from tropical weather, Rollins and the rest of the 36th CRG met with some interesting challenges.
“Coming from a tropical island, Guam, and coming here and [54-degree temperature] is a little cold for us, but apparently people are around here having fun. And the sunlight, that’s another thing too. As you can tell, right behind me(sunset) it’s about [1:30 a.m.]. For us in Guam we’re used to it being dark at [6:30 p.m.] So that’s another challenge, we’re trying to sleep and get acclimated. It’s a little tough.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Geisser, an Air Force Combat Controller, and native of Townsend, Mont., with the 125th Special Tactics Squadron out of Portland, Oreg., provides the link between Army, Navy Special Forces and the Air Force.
“We’re the link. Everything from calling in airdrops of personnel, and/or equipment, to providing air-traffic control services to bring that equipment into austere landing zones, … and close air support to bring air power to the ground forces.” said the Townsend native. “This is not new to me. It’s different because it’s a much larger scale then we’re used to, but it’s been a good experience overall.”
When it comes to airfield seizers, according to Magsig, it can’t be done without them.
“The special tactics squadron provides air traffic control and controls the aircraft as it comes in and clears the runways and taxiways, and the contingency response groups helps us set up and run the airfield in terms of marshaling the aircraft and unloading and offloading all of our vehicles, pallets and equipment. They run the aerial port of embarkation and debarkation, marshal aircraft as they arrive, park them, and receive the equipment, and they help us in the security of the airfield as well,” said Magsig.
As the Spartan Brigade continues to train, this exercise served as a certification as the Army’s Contingency Response Force for the Pacific Theater.