KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Editor's note: Due to operations security, Airmen are not fully identified in this story.
Warm air suddenly whips throughout the aircraft, breaking the calm of the long flight above the Pacific Ocean just after midnight.
Anticipation can be felt among the operators and teammates inside…waiting for the signal to spring into action.
Unfazed by the roaring wind, the jump-master leans outside the back of the aircraft. He is from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron. A smile crosses his face. He knows his mission completely. He focuses on the small, moonlit island where his team’s objective lies, then turns to his fellow operators and gives them the command to jump.
Stomach lurch; wind ripping past…they fall; in complete control while tearing through the salty, cool, midnight air. Streaking in a targeted, precision free-fall toward their target, Wake Island airfield.
“During Exercise Gryphon Pacific 20-1, the 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG), using its special tactics airmen and special operations aviators, flew several thousand miles arriving at two separate remote locations,” said the mission commander from the 353rd SOG. “These special tactics airmen performed a free-fall jump to establish airfields which included Forward Area Refueling Point sites.”
Launching from Guam, two MC-130J Commando II aircraft with Global Access Special Tactics teams onboard rapidly established and controlled landing zones capable of facilitating additional forces at both Wake Island and Kwajalein Atoll in the same night.
For the mission commander and his teams, a key aspect of the training was in the planning phase, which challenged them to work through the logistics, coordination, and preparation needed to ensure they were properly equipped and prepared to rapidly respond whenever and wherever needed.
“The mission scenario included an opposition force with high-end capabilities challenging our Airmen to think through different problems sets that do not exist in other permissive environments,” he continued. “This type of mission is crucial for operating in the Pacific theater, which is the largest area of responsibility. Delivering military capabilities can be challenging without always having large established bases to operate out of.”
He continued by explaining how having and using the ability to rapidly deploy to remote locations and setup austere airfields provides his leadership, their joint partners, and allies with a wide range of options to accomplish their objectives.
A vital objective of the airfield seizure training was to use the area as a refueling platform for additional aircraft.
Bringing the FARP personnel was a key part of training,” said the mission commander. “The MC-130J has a wide-range of unique and specialized capabilities, including the ability to transfer fuel to other aircraft both in the air and on the ground.”
This capability is extremely valuable as it provides a refueling point anywhere aircraft can land, thus extending the reach of airpower.
“Our mission was to perform FARP training operations alongside the 353rd Special Operations Group, refining our ability to use remote locations to extend our combat readiness across the Indo-Pacific,” stated the FARP team leader. “Our responsibility is providing refueling capabilities to U.S. and coalition forces in the region. Gryphon Pacific showcased some new and exciting ideas and opportunities to increase those capabilities and interoperability opportunities in the future.”
Providing security for the FARP team members and special operations aviators was an elite Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element team.
These highly-trained DAGRE members are experts in ensuring proper force protection measures are met when aircraft are operating out of austere locations.
“When we have an aircraft on the airfield, for ten minutes or up to seven hours, we’re there to make sure nothing bad happens,” said the DAGRE team leader. “During this exercise specifically, we also provided security for the FARP team, as well as the other aircraft coming in for refueling. The airfield is so isolated that a response element from allies could take too long to arrive therefore, we want to make sure we have the ability to land, establish security, and then get out as quickly as needed.”
Supporting agencies from Kadena AB assisted the 353rd SOG members with ensuring mission success.
“Our partnership with 18th Wing was instrumental in accomplishing this exercise,” explained the mission commander. “Our team stands ready to defend America and its allies should any emergency, crisis or contingency operation arise. We look forward to attacking complex problem sets together as we work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”