Members of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 204th Airlift Squadron completed a series of mass-airdrop operations throughout Europe June 4-14, as first-time participants in two multinational exercises.
The team of 51 was comprised of guardsmen and several of active duty Airmen and military civilians from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, who flew side-by-side with other airlift units from Air Mobility Command and the NATO Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa Air Base, Hungary, as part of exercises Swift Response 18 (SR18) and Bayonet Strike.
Aircrew, maintenance professionals and an operations support team set up a mobile operations center June 4 at Rammstein Air Base, Germany, for SR18. The exercise focused on high-readiness airborne forces from nine nations to include Israel, and NATO allies; Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Approximately 2,300 participants joined in this year’s iteration.
Throughout the exercise, personnel and equipment were transported on a C-17 Globemaster III, a cargo aircraft capable of rapid delivery of troops and equipment to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment areas. Deliveries were made through static line jumps, high altitude low opening jumps (HALO), equipment air drops and air-to-land transportation.
Since this is the first time the guardsmen operated outside of PACOM, Maj. Britton Komine, 204th AS pilot and mission planner, said his team faced a new set of challenges, such as adjusting to a foreign airspace along with new languages and cultures.
“This was a great opportunity to build new relationships and fortify the friendships we already have,” said Komine. “Our C-17 community is small, and being able to lean on our partners from Hungary was very helpful. In order for us to do our part and execute, we really had to learn quickly and adapt to our new environment.”
The mission kicked off with an airfield seizure operation, which entailed the guardsmen airdropping armed paratroopers, known as ‘pathfinders,’ from the Portuguese Army Rapid Reaction team and the Italian Army 186th Airborne Regiment Forlgore Brigade. Once landed, the pathfinders set out to survey and secure the designated area. The Hawaiian C-17 also flew an advance echelon (ADVON) team and their equipment to Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland. The team included specialists from various civil engineer and communications career fields, who set up the airfield and paved the way for follow-on forces to come.
Hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers from the 4-319 Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team stepped onto the NATO, AMC and Hawaiian aircraft to conduct a joint-forcible entry operation, through static line jumps. The soldiers were joined by members of the Israeli Army, to include the Chief of Staff of Ground Forces, Brig. Gen. Ori Gordin.
“Multinational JFEs provide a realistic, complex, and rewarding training platform for all parties involved—both Army and Air Forces,” said Capt. Mike Hank, NATO Heavy Airlift Wing chief pilot. “United States Army Europe truly does a fantastic job in integrating this with their paratroopers across their entire ground tactical plan. From the conferences to the mission planning cells to execution, training alongside our allies and partners creates efficiencies, enhances capabilities, and ultimately yield better understanding of tactics, techniques, and procedures that promote worldwide readiness—whether that be the Pacific or in Europe.”
Several of these flights required aircraft to max out their capacity, which can entail seven large vehicles and a dozen passengers. Komine said the training was invaluable to his fellow aircrew, since it was the first time some individuals had the opportunity to maximize the Globemaster’s payload.
As a final task for SR18, the Hawaii guardsmen carried out air-to-land deliveries to the newly-established base in Poland, in a move called Bravo Echelon. To accomplish this, aircrew from the 204th AS flew four AMC aircraft simultaneously. Vehicles the size of school buses were loaded onto the jets, to include heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks, which are used for the patriot missile system, high-powered radars and more.
Upon completion of Bravo Echelon, the guardsmen and C-17 partners relocated to Aviano Air Base, Italy on June 9, to take part in exercise Bayonet Strike, which included more airlift operations with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Italian Army 186th Airborne Regiment Forlgore Brigade and a new group of paratroopers from the Spanish Airborne Brigade.
The operation served to fulfill training requirements for aircrew and soldiers, qualifying them to rapid assemble and deploy virtually anywhere in the European Theater. The Bayonet Strike training culminated with operation Rock Drop, which entailed hundreds of soldiers being dropped onto contested terrain to reshape and dominate the battle-space.
As the training neared its end, the cultural exchange between participants continued. To commemorate their combined accomplishments, the guardsmen hosted a traditional Hawaiian Luau with their Europe-Based counterparts. While the break was short-lived in comparison to their flying schedule, the multi-national teams of Airmen still found time to discuss and contemplate their plans to work together in the future - be it another training exercise or in a battlefield.
“Being stationed in Europe as part of a 12-Nation program that operates C-17’s, our unit was extremely excited to engage in multiple missions with the 204th,” said Hank. “Both of our units integrated as one team through multiple Air Land and Air Drop Operations. Our Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, and Romania crew members left the exercise feeling a true sense of “Aloha” and we hope we we’re able to extend that same hospitality to the 204th.”