JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
The office bustled with olive green jumpsuits, the smell of pizza, and a dozen conversations dropping terms such as "sorties" and "objective." At the white board near a high table covered in maps, a 6-foot-plus commander in a flight suit bearing the 144th Airlift Squadron patch scribbled information and directed various personnel.
Ring, ring. "Mission planning cell," a serious face answered one of the uniformly black office phones.
The mission planning cell was the eyes and ears of the air and ground forces commanders, assigned to the task of command-and-control for the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise's many moving parts.
More than 1,500 service members drawn from Alaska, Oregon and Guam came together for a large joint-force exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and at Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, last week.
The Joint Forcible Entry Exercise - a sizable undertaking by the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Operations Group, U.S. Army Alaska's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron, and the Air Force's Guam-based 36th Contingency Response Group - demonstrated close cooperation and the ability to project combat power.
The six-day event involved a mock airfield seizure from enemy forces, multiple airdrops, and airlift transport of more than 500 tons of cargo and more than 650 Soldiers and Airmen. It included a jump with more than 400 paratroopers, intelligence and reconnaissance operations, simulated firefights, a medical evacuation exercise, air traffic control and more.
Exercise organizers attributed its success to the flexibility and positive attitudes of the entire team.
"Sometimes people focus on why we can't," said Army Col. Matt McFarlane, the JFEX ground forces and 4-25th IBCT commander. "We focused on how we can."
Planning began in October 2013 and required considerable cooperation between participants and critical support from other agencies such as the 3rd Operation Group; the 176th, 773rd and 673d logistics readiness squadrons; and the 176th Maintenance Group.
The Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, with its wide range of missions, was able to furnish support normally requiring several wings. For example, the original plans called for preparing only 12 aircraft, wing maintainers were able to provide 16 mission-ready aircraft - including the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and HC-130 King aircraft - for more than 70 flying missions during the exercise. They were able to repair aircraft in 45 minutes - work that usually takes four days, according to Air National Guard Lt. Col. Michael Griesbaum, the 176th Operations Group deputy commander, who served as deputy air forces commander for the exercise.
Unforeseen factors required speedy cooperation by support agencies. Changes included moving the original drop zone for the paratroopers from Allen Army Airfield at Fort Greely to Malemute Drop Zone on JBER due to unsafe wind conditions.
The organizations achieved interoperability - working together to achieve service-specific training, learning each other's terminology, and building stronger relationships.
"The intention is to continue these mutually-beneficial large force exercises in the future," said Air National Guard Col. Blake Gettys, the 176th Operations Group commander, who served as the exercise's air forces commander.