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GFLR 21-08.5 strengthens international, joint partnerships

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mariam K. Springs
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- The 34th Combat Training Squadron held its latest iteration of Green Flag Little Rock at Alexandria International Airport and Fort Polk, Louisiana, July 14-25, supporting training for the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during their Joint Readiness Training Center rotation.

The joint exercise, dubbed GFLR 21-08.5, hosted units from both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, as well as Coalition partners from the Italian air force and Royal New Zealand air force, marking the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that international players participated in GFLR.

As Air Mobility Command’s only joint-accredited flag level exercise, GFLR seeks to continuously challenge participants’ warfighting skills in emerging concepts of operations and provides real-world experience with partners they may not be able to get at home-station training.

Unlike most versions of GFLR, where the 34th CTS supports the user executing the JRTC rotation, GFLR 21-08.5 focused on enabling and sustaining the 509th Infantry Regiment, who played the role of the opposing forces, or OPFOR.

Over the course of the exercise, approximately 300 personnel and four aircraft, including two 19th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules, one Italian air force C-130J and one Royal New Zealand air force C-130H, provided airland and airdrop support for the 509th IR.

“21-08.5 was important in furthering international relations and practicing critical skills with our Coalition partners. It also showcased the capability of military assets expedited to a forward location and redeployed in short notice utilizing the logistics chain,” said Maj. Jonathan Provens, 34th CTS exercise director. 

Provens said the overarching objectives of GFLR 21-08.5 were to exercise the 34th CTS’s joint accredited tasks and AMC priorities.

This included conducting intra-theater airlift, sustaining deployed forces, executing personnel recovery and experimentation with emerging capabilities.

“For this exercise, the 921st Contingency Response Element was airlifted from the Intermediate Staging Base of Alexandria International Airport to a Forward Staging Base,” said Provens. “Rolling stock and cargo was then transported to the FSB to simulate host nation equipment. Players then delivered container delivery system bundles and conducted static line personnel airdrops to support the ground user.”

Provens added that there were two primary focus areas specific to experimenting with emerging technologies.

“A major focus of this exercise was for crews to become proficient in the use of Tactical Data Link, which is a secure text based form of communication between the aircraft and command and control,” he said. “Also, crews were given an Agile Combat Employment scenario, performing hot wing defuel to an R-11 fuel truck which then resupplied a simulated special operations aircraft.”

Moreover, what also made GFLR 21-08.5 unique was that it was held exclusively at Alexandria International Airport instead of operating out of its traditional ramp space, known as the Christmas Tree, at Little Rock Air Force Base.

“Due to the runway construction currently in progress, the Christmas Tree was unavailable,” Provens said. “To give aircrews a more deployed feel, the exercise was transferred to Louisiana. This was a huge challenge having the entire 34th CTS—who normally operate from their own building—relocate to a Passenger Processing Facility at Alexandria.”

The crossflow of information and the lessons learned from exercises such as GFLR serve as building blocks for working in Joint and Coalition environments.

Provens said it is essential to continue supporting our joint partners in participating JRTC rotations because of the mutually beneficial training.

“For the Army it gives them practice coordinating support that they normally don’t get at home station, but will be critical in a warfighting situation,” he said. “For aircrew, it gives their training more relevance. At home station if they don’t drop a training load to the drop zone it’s not as big of a deal because it’s just practice. However, when there is a user on the ground that needs those supplies—even in training—it’s extra motivation for crews to get it right.”