Published December 16, 2014 –
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- When 1st Lt. Matt Lavigne's phone rang late Dec. 10, he knew it was time to scramble into action. As a fighter pilot, preparedness is engraved into his DNA, but this was the first time he'd experienced something like this. In only a few hours, he'd be flying side by side with other F-16 Fighting Falcons bound for the Republic of Korea.
That same day, thousands of others received a similar phone call, all with the same message: It's time to go.
A couple hundred of those calls went to Airmen who were told they'd be deploying, all in support of Beverly Sunrise 15-1, a weeklong exercise that would eclipse the expectations of any preceding it. What they didn't know, the deployment wouldn't be simulated; they'd actually get stuck in the arm with typhoid immunizations and board a C-130 Hercules headed out of Japan.
That's the reality now for Misawa Air Base and a handful of bases in the Pacific theater.
In the past, exercises typically meant sweating through 40 lbs. of chemical gear and responding to attacks while "deployed" to "Base X" a few hundred yards away from their home-based offices and work centers.
"Misawa has a robust, in-place wartime mission, but the reality is we hadn't tested that mission because the wing was always pretending to be somewhere else," said Col. Timothy Sundvall, 35th Fighter Wing commander.
Now, those Airmen tasked to deploy tell their families real goodbyes as they pack up and head to a foreign land. They trade in their warm beds for portable cots and hot dinners for boxed meals, all in an effort to bring the fight to the enemy in overwhelming fashion.
"We're no longer exercising 'Base X' at Misawa," Sundvall continued. "We're actually deploying forces to a forward location while Misawa exercises its in-place mission to support that. We're testing our wartime capabilities in a way that's never been done before."
Sundvall said Misawa AB is postured to do two things: deploy combat assets and support the broader combat effort from the home station. With some help from other bases, they did exactly that, resulting in the most diverse exercise operation Pacific Air Forces has collectively executed to date.
The changes were enabled by the Commander's Inspection Program (CCIP) launched at the beginning of October. It essentially tasks wing commanders to exercise their wings to most effectively prepare them to execute their tasked mission. Previously, inspections from major commands governed the methods and events of base readiness exercises, all with a biannual Operational Readiness Inspection as the end result.
Now, PACAF observes its wing commanders for a two-year period and asks, "Is this wing commander ensuring his wing is ready to execute its mission?"
With the reins off, Sundvall was chomping at the bit to employ this newly-crafted approach.
He contacted wing commanders from Osan and Kunsan Air Bases, South Korea, and Yokota and Kadena Air Bases, Japan, and shared his ideas. Together they scheduled a pragmatic plan to execute each base's mission requirements in the most realistic way possible. Each wing blocked out a week on the calendar for the short-notice exercise and turned to their talented Airmen to utilize their respective assets.
"We had five wing commanders tailoring their exercises simultaneously to obtain synergy and cooperation," Sundvall said. "With the implementation of the CCIP, it becomes natural for Pacific bases to coordinate together because our missions interrelate."
The plan was stirred into action when multiple C-130s and their aircrews from Yokota AB fired up their engines and headed north to pick up Misawa Airmen and bring them to the fight at Osan AB. This not only forced the hands of 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen at Misawa AB to rapidly load cargo, but the entire Yokota AB airlift team traveling to multiple bases on short notice.
"We launched our entire fleet in support of generating combat air power out of Misawa," said Col. Douglas DeLaMater, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, adding that even with the no-notice call, his Airmen were readily up to the task.
Simultaneously, KC-135 Stratotankers from Kadena AB performed mid-air refueling to F-16s headed to Osan AB before diverting to Misawa AB to employ aeromedical casualty training to members of the 35th Medical Group. Dozens of medics received hands-on training on mass casualty transportation from the base hospital to the flightline, where they were loaded onto the tanker.
"It's important to practice because it's what we would be called upon to do," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Kirkland, the 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of medical readiness. "Of course, the medics who are training benefit, but more importantly, our patients that we're caring for benefit from this. It's not every day we get a KC-135 to train with."
That type of assessment was a theme throughout the exercise; such robust interconnected operations had yet to be seen throughout PACAF.
"This is a milestone in the Pacific, and gives leaders a venue to improve theater cooperation, project power, and evaluate our agile, flexible command and control," said Maj. Joseph Markowski, the 51st Fighter Wing inspections director.
None was arguably more evident than the air domination displayed by multiple wings. Lavigne said it was the first short-notice exercise the Wild Weasels from Misawa AB had done to Korea, and they got right to work by supporting F-16s, A-10 Thunderbolts alongside U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers -- who were also deployed to Osan AB from Misawa AB on the same timeline -- while they engaged simulated enemy forces and surface-to-air missile sites.
"Our main goal is to stop the enemy and it's important for us to show the world how quickly we can generate jets and support potential conflicts,” Lavigne said
Misawa AB pilots executed both the traditional suppression of enemy air defenses mission and strike, coordination and reconnaissance missions in an array of ways throughout the week.
"It was great to see how we could get everyone together on that same sheet of music before we'd be called to complete that ultimate goal," Lavigne said, crediting both fellow pilots and Airmen on the ground for expeditious and effective communication.
The exercise was fast paced and surreal in many ways, and Master Sgt. Lucian Williamson's first reaction was "wow, we're really doing this."
"We had no time to prepare; we just had to rely on our training and then execute," said Williamson, a 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons section chief. "We had a plan that we had developed over the last few months, so when the horn sounded, we were ready to react."
Sundvall said the contribution to the involved wings' wartime mission-set was potentially more impactful than several Red Flags would have been, all at a fraction of the cost, citing the utilization of allotted training hours and funds from each wing.
In addition to saving money, reshaping the approach of exercises was equally, if not more important.
"The biggest challenge was changing the mindset and culture of how we exercise," Markowski said. "We're finding that real execution can unveil previously undetected challenges. The lessons learned from this exercise will undoubtedly pave the way for future Department of Defense operations."
Sundvall said the hope is to employ exercises of this nature at least twice annually, while progressively incorporating all PACAF wings in their specialized roles.