Leaving the heat, humidity and rain out of the south and heading north for cooler temperatures, the 815th Airlift Squadron put their reserve Airmen to the test in Alaska with both temperatures and terrain, July 13-16.
Working with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Airborne, 25th Infantry Division, the 815th AS provided airlift to more than 1,300 paratroopers for three days, as well as heavy equipment parachutes on the fourth day, during a training exercise at Joint base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“Being able to operate effectively and efficiently in multiple climates and different types of terrain is an important part of our training,” said Major George Metros, 815th AS training pilot and exercise mission commander.
Cargo transport, airdrop and airlift conduct is the mission of the 815th AS, the Flying Jennies, but their training is normally carried out in locations similar to their home station at Keesler Air Base, Mississippi, using the C-130J Super Hercules.
The subways said they were used to working in places like Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Benning, Georgia, and Pope AFB, North Carolina.
“Being able to come here to JBER, work with 3 Wing using their facilities, as well as drop a unit that we haven’t dropped a lot in the past, 4 / 25th IBCT (A), and to do that at a location away from the home station on new ground for us is a great physical training opportunity, ”said Metros.
The terrain in Alaska presented a new challenge for pilots and stevedores to overcome. Mountains and valleys offer different types of training scenarios and there are more areas to train in.
“The training here is dynamic,” said Metros. “We basically deployed a whole group of people from 403 Wing, 36 Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, our maintenance group, to our support personnel; come to train in an area that is outside of their comfort zone and normal operations.
Another major difference for the 815th AS was the Army’s restricted range area in Alaska; this is a special airspace reserved for military use, which the 815th AS does not have at their disposal in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“Having this special-purpose airspace in which we can fly and of which we are the only users, makes it easier to conduct training operations and allows us to accomplish more training opportunities,” said Metros. “We can fly there to drop heavy equipment, conduct drop operations and perform landing zone operations without worrying about someone entering our airspace.”
Part of these parachuting operations included personnel drops.
Army Lt. Col. Justin Pritchard, commander of the brigade’s 6th Engineer Battalion (Airborne), said his battalion participated in the personnel drops, deploying around 450 parachutes.
“Frankly, having the 815th (AS) here has helped us improve our skills,” said Pritchard. “I was able to jump from my assault command post twice this week and all my companies were able to conduct a tactical assembly. And for us, the repetition greatly improves our skill, so that’s been great in that regard. “
Pritchard said they didn’t have that many C-130 jumps here, especially C-17 Globemaster III‘s, and sometimes they are limited to one jump per month or every two months.
“This week has been a good week,” he said. “I blew up at least half of my soldiers twice, while the rest blew up at least once.”
After performing a jump on Wednesday and then returning for a second jump on Friday, Pritchard said having two airborne operations on different days allowed them to see how they had improved throughout the week. .
“Friday was a lot better with the preparation for work with the Air Force in particular,” said Pritchard. “In terms of interoperability between us, and making sure we were saying the same things, understanding each other’s terms, I could see we were more organized than Wednesday.”
The Pritchard Battalion also provided the large drops for the July 15 flights.
While the Flying Jennies regularly load heavy equipment, conduct empty combat, and even make large drops during their normal training at the home station, they do not often have the opportunity to drop air. heavy equipment.
“We don’t necessarily get the opportunity to do heavy equipment airdrops like this, we often load Humvees at home,” said Captain Leesa Froelich, 815 AS pilot and deputy mission commander. training exercise. “But we normally can’t drop the Humvees, and being able to drop them on the parachutes is different and is great training for us.”
During the training exercise, they dropped more than 30,000 pounds of equipment, which they could not do at home, said Master Sgt. Jonathan Parker, 815th AS loadmaster and Exercise Joint Airborne / Air Transportability Training NCO in charge.
Another challenge they faced was the Alaskan Assault Landing Zone, which is completely different from the dirt assault tracks they normally use.
“The assault bands vary wherever you go and doing the assault landings here on the rock surface was different,” Froelich said. “This terrain presented a different kind of challenge as we had to make sure we didn’t use too much reverse to keep rocks from entering the props and causing damage.”
The pilots and loaders also completed another training objective: tactical low-level flight.
This type of flight is used to provide effective tactics in training in harsh environments, but the terrain in southern Mississippi tends to be over flat, wooded areas or wet areas.
“Alaska gave us the opportunity to experience low level flight training over difficult mountainous terrain,” said Captain Michael Plash, pilot of the 815th AS. “Terrain, aircraft performance, crew fatigue, airspace environment and weather conditions were all factors our crews had to consider. “
The Jennies are used to dealing with the hot and humid weather of the Mississippi. This exercise gave them another challenge of having to deal with the dry, cool Alaskan mountain air.
“We would love to see the 815th AS come back, especially in the winter as well,” said Pritchard. “Because the more often we can jump, the more ready we will be to support any combatant commander in the world when asked to jump and seize an airfield, and complete whatever missions they give us.” confide. “
According to Lt. Col. Matthew Sikkink, commander of the 815th AS, the winter months would be a bit more difficult because these planes do not normally operate in the arctic environment.
“The winter months would be a challenge that we wouldn’t let pass,” Sikkink said. “Because with more training and early preparation for the arctic environment, both for crews and airplanes, I think we could definitely overcome this challenge. It would just have to be on a smaller scale for the first one.
In just four days of flying, the Flying Jennies achieved numerous training goals of over 15 assault landings and approximately eight hours of tactical low-level flight. In addition, the mutual training of personnel and heavy equipment drops that the army needed.
“It’s a great relationship we’ve built with the 4 / 25th IBCT (A) and I think we have a bright future with them. They’ve been able to provide us, a Reserve squadron, with specific types of support that we can’t get in our local training area, ”Sikkink said.
“I think overall this training exercise has been a resounding success and we would like to try to come back next year.