JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Exercise Ample Strike and NATO Days Air Show in the Czech Republic from Sept. 8 to 18 offered an opportunity for 62nd Airlift Wing Airmen from the 4th Airlift Squadron to integrate with NATO forces during a multinational exercise and outreach effort. This combined exercise directly supports 2018 National Defense Strategy Summary elements aimed at supporting interoperability as a priority.
This year marked the fourth iteration of Ample Strike, a Czech-led multinational, live exercise involving 19 NATO allies and partner nations in training areas across the southern region of the Czech Republic.
The C-17 Globemaster III 4th AS crew benefited from joint tactical air controller training with Czech JTACs and air refueling training.
“From the crew’s perspective, the training was absolutely invaluable and we feel our participation added value to the training on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Adam Knox, 4th AS director of operations. “From the larger perspective, the success of this exercise is truly multi-dimensional. At the individual level, we are forging professional bonds – by working side-by-side and sharing stories and experiences – that may, one day, prove useful in actual combat operations.”
When deployed or on a mission, aircrews need to be able to rely on and trust one another to do their job effectively and efficiently.
“I think that crew compliment is everything,” said Senior Airman Elizabeth Silvers, 4th AS loadmaster. “Being able to work together despite our differences and disagreements, to be cordial during those times, as well as picking each other up during times of high stress or fatigue. It was fun working with my crew to solve those unique problems.”
The success of the aircrew being able to work together transfers to the ability of that crew to work together with other military branches as well as other countries.
“At the unit level, we are able to work out any difficulties we have with the interoperability of our equipment in an exercise atmosphere prior to deploying together and discovering any issues during combat ops,” Knox said. “At the strategic level, when NATO countries come together to train, it demonstrates our ability and willingness to stand together against adversaries that threaten our shared values. Once you take a step back and tie it all together, it’s pretty humbling to realize the small role that our crew played in this multinational exercise is a direct projection of our Commander-in-Chief’s military instrument of national power.”
The purpose of the exercise was to increase JTAC proficiency levels, provide theater-realistic training opportunities for the participating personnel and improve standardization and interoperability between NATO allies and partner nations.
“I think it’s very important to work with other countries and teach them what we know and vice versa and get everyone on the same page,” Silvers said. “[It’s important] finding out where our weak points are before we need to implement strategy.”
The training opportunities provided during the exercise aligned with Air Mobility Command’s vision for what C-17 crew should be focusing on now.
“In light of current tensions around the world, AMC has revised the training requirements for C-17 crews directing a focus on a near-peer type conflict and integrating our operations with fighters and other tactical aircraft,” Knox said. “In most cases, McChord C-17s conduct this training in the local area, simulating the addition of tactical ground controllers and ‘blue air’ support. However, Exercise Ample Strike allowed the 4th AS crew to directly address these training objectives with little to no simulations.”
[Editor’s Note: ‘blue air’ support refers to operational support the U.S. Air Force would receive from allied or partner nations during contingencies.]
“The training we received was absolutely top-notch,” he continued. “We worked directly with Czech military air traffic controllers and Czech JTACs. It’s very reassuring to know that their English is flawless and should we need to communicate during real-world operations, there will be no problems.”
After participating in Ample Strike, the 4th AS Airmen flew to Ostrava, Czech Republic, to display their C-17 in the NATO Days Air Show. The Czech-led air show included 19 NATO allies and partner nations to highlight military ground and aviation capabilities.
This year, the U.S. was designated as the special partner for the event and featured U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches, a U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom, and a Nebraska Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker alongside the McChord C-17. Also featured at the air show was a U.S. Air Force Reserve Command B-52 Stratofortress.
“It was an honor to represent the U.S. with the C-17 next to our brothers-in-arms from the USA, USMC and NE ANG,” Knox said. “We really enjoyed the opportunity to show-off our aircraft and talk about our mission to the people of Ostrava and Central Europe.”
The USMC UH-1Y and ten Marines were transported to the air show by 4th AS Airmen on the McChord C-17. This provided training for both Air Force and Marine crews to load and offload the helicopter onto the aircraft.
“The training for the helicopter crew and our loadmasters was unmatched,” Knox said. “For both crews, it was the first time loading a UH-1Y on a C-17. By the end of the trip, the helicopter had been off- and on-loaded three times and the final offload took only 30 minutes. In the end, the two separate crews came together to form a highly functional team in a very short time.”
Loading the helicopter onto the C-17 presented challenges for both Airmen and Marines, but they were able to learn from each progressive load and offload to become more proficient and learn from the issues that they were able to overcome.
“I’m glad I was able to do that because I feel like it’s one of those things I can share that experience with other people and they can learn from it,” Silvers said. “We had many problem-solving moments in that experience and we came together and made it happen.”
While participation in events like Exercise Ample Strike and the NATO Days Air Show highlight the importance of interoperability and cohesion among different military branches and nations for the 4th AS Airmen, it also showed the importance of working together as a team with their fellow crewmembers.
Exercise Ample Strike and NATO Days Air Show are an example of how the Air Force can strengthen its partnerships with allies and further their ability to operate as a team.