CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. --
Oklahoma Air National Guard members with the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron (146th ASOS) and 285th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron (285th SOIS) from Will Rogers Air National Guard Base (WRANGB) in Oklahoma City, traveled to Little Falls, Minnesota, to support their Minnesota Army National Guard partners assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division (1/34th ABCT) in a brigade Warfighter exercise (WFX 19-12), May 10-18, 2019.
“The exercise is highly technical, requiring coordination of three dimensional space, time, multiple assets, deconflicting aircraft and artillery to use the same airspace,” said Minnesota Army National Guard Col. Timothy Kemp, 1/34th ABCT commander. “It takes highly proficient teamwork, backed by understanding and trust.”
The 24-hour continuous, graded exercise, which is the second of three exercises that U.S. Army and National Guard units are required to complete before deployment, tests the units at the brigade level before heading to the final and more applied exercise at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California.
“The sole focus of WFX is placed on the brigade and battalion staff functions,” said Kemp. “We’ve worked with the same air support operations squadron for two exercises now. They understand the procedures and methods to integrate into the fight. That’s what makes us successful.”
Though the mainly computer-based exercise was only four days long from its official start to finish, much of its focus laid on the days of planning, strategizing, syncing communication and gathering information that came previously.
“In the planning phase before the exercise kicks off, we’re trying to process, plan and rehearse for anything and everything that you could imagine happening,” said Oklahoma Air National Guard Capt. Trevor Smith, the brigade air liaison officer assigned to the 146th ASOS.
The 10 Airmen from WRANGB – nine from the 146th ASOS and one from the 285th SOIS – helped integrate air force capabilities into U.S. Army fires’ targeting and planning. A large portion of the ASOS’s efforts was acting as liaison between the simulated U.S. Air Force assets and Army National Guard fires.
“We help the Army integrate Air Force assets into their scheme of maneuver – their plan,” said Smith. “We can explain the capabilities of air assets and in some ways become advocates for the Air Force and enablers for the Army and their mission.”
However, this coordination between branches does not come without its pitfalls.
“One of the biggest challenges is that Army planning is largely event-based, while the Air Force is largely time-driven,” said Smith. “We have to sync the time-driven schedules and event-based actions to effectively communicate and successfully do business.”
Part of this coordination includes using Joint Tactical Airstrike Requests, which are forms that include locations, times, dates, munitions, types of targets and preferred outcomes and allow Army fires to request air support for the battalions acting elsewhere downrange.
“For me, the ASOS is my coordinating force for all blue (Air Force) air assets,” said Minnesota Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan Flikke, brigade targeting officer for the 1/34th ABCT. “They are our direct support for immediate close air support missions, and they quality check all of our air support requests. We’ve more heavily involved the air side as we’ve realized our need for them and the benefit.”
Though this is the third time that the 146th ASOS and 1/34th ABCT have worked together in person, this is the first time the ASOS has incorporated someone from the 285th SOIS. Oklahoma Air National Guard Capt. Christi Campbell – an intelligence analyst assigned to the 285th SOIS – is usually in a vault receiving real-time information and imagery or prepping air crews for operations.
“I have the air and the ground picture, and can bridge that gap,” she said. “We (Army and Air Force) do have different perspectives, so using both of those to request information can create a more complete picture of the battle space and the capabilities we have within it.”
Because of her position, Campbell is acutely aware of the information needed to perform air support operations – like terrain analysis, avenues of approach, observation points, fields of fire, obstacles, and opportunities for cover and concealment.
“Having them here gives valuable insight to our aerial assets and exactly what they are able to assist with and visa versa,” said Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. Ellie Johnson, NCO in charge of the Geospatial Intelligence Cell, Delta Company, 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1/34th ABCT. “They gave us a new perspective of what we can request and how we can request it. Being geospatial intelligence, it’s nice to have another pair of eyes to help problem solve.”
Despite there being only 10 Oklahoma Air National Guardsmen in the Army National Guard exercise, Airmen from WRANGB had a significant impact on the exercise and the 1/34th ABCT’s mission within it – one that will continue into NTC during the summer of 2020 and their possible deployment after that.
“This really benefits us by creating connections with the very Soldiers we’d be interacting with in future operations,” said Oklahoma Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Timothy Davis, brigade tactical air control party team sergeant assigned to the 146th ASOS. “It’s really about mission planning and relationship building with our partners.”
“Relationships are everything,” summarized Kemp. “We have two different cultures working at the same task – both utilizing air power to shape and affect the enemy.”