HURBURT FIELD, Fla. — The 1st Special Operations Wing returned recently from an exercise at Hill Air Force Base.
Ultimate Archer was an exercise designed to test the capabilities of the 1st SOW units in a deployed environment and make improvements to existing procedures when available.
“What we want to do when we land (deploy) is hit the ground running,” said Master Sgt. Ian Cabral, Ultimate Archer MC-130H Combat Talon II production superintendent of aircraft maintenance. “This is a chance for us to iron out the wrinkles in our procedures to make that happen.”
Improving those procedures started with the basics and a crawl, walk, run strategy. For many Airmen who attended Ultimate Archer, the exercise doubled as predeployment training, putting them in new surroundings with new missions and new complications that can’t be encountered at home.
“We’re getting guys outside of home station training, out of just unilateral training,” said Maj. Dwight Jones, 1st SOW theater plans chief. “Then combining and integrating training, so it ramps up the training level and better prepares our guys for how we execute real world in a deployed environment.”
Aircrews began with orientation flights before expanding to full mission profiles. Later in the week, they began working with external units such as the 388th Fighter Wing and 19th Special Forces Group.
“One thing we get to do with this exercise is planning with the ground user, so the 19th Special Forces Group, F-16 Fighting Falcons and AH-64 Apaches,” said Jones. “We routinely find ourselves in air stacks with those players, but hardly ever get to practice with them.”
According to Jones, the ability to plan the day prior, then go out and execute a mission, return and debrief, is going to help develop better practices and teach lessons for the future.
In addition to working with these external units on a tactical level, the Airmen planning and coordinating missions were able to gain experience within a Joint Operations Center. Jones says this will help them understand how a JOC operates and what would be expected of them while working in a deployed situation.
A large focus of Ultimate Archer was running the JOC and how the staff of the Joint Special Operations Air Detachment operates and plans out missions.
“The JSOAD is not a new concept, but it is one that we have identified inside the 1st SOW and really in Air Force Special Operations Command as being important,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Ffrench, JSOAD commander. “We do very good at training aircrew and giving maintainers opportunities to turn wrenches and get aircraft going, but the command and control structure that the JSOAD provides is not exercised nearly enough.”
As flight and mission hours increased through the exercise, so did the team’s cohesion according to Ffrench.
“When last night happened (final scenario), you could see the motions take place,” said Ffrench. “You could see staff working, all the different entities, whether it was an operator, whether it was current ops, or intel or even a support agency. They all came together for what we needed to do the aircrew and everybody outside flying knew what to do, when to do it and really how to do it. It went very well.”
Hurlburt took eight weapons platforms to Hill AFB, three CV-22B Ospreys, two MC-130H Combat Talon IIs, two U-28As, and an AC-130U Spooky Gunship.
“The ultimate objective here was to give us, the 1st SOW, an opportunity to advance our training, to figure out a way to improve what we do on a daily basis,” said Ffrench. “We did that by getting out of the flatlands of Florida and into the mountains and cold, where aircraft and people respond differently in these different environments. We should not wait until we are in overseas locations to learn what a different environment does to us. I think we got that just by leaving Hurlburt and doing something a little more complex with a set scenario. I’m pretty happy to say that I think we accomplished what we needed to.”