175th EFS TSP bolsters Wolf Pack mission
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- More than 250 Air National Guard Airmen deployed here from Joe Foss Field, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 15, in support of a Theater Security Package to the Republic of Korea and will depart Sept 15.
As a TSP, guardsmen from the 175th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron integrated with Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing here for four months as part of a rotation to enable the U.S. to maintain a significant presence within the Pacific Theater. Rotational forces at deployed locations reduce the distance and response time for contingency operations.
"It's also a total force concept," said Lt. Col. Todd M. Sheridan, 175th EFS commander. "We really showed a robust team of full-time guardsmen, part-time guardsmen and full-time active duty members. The ANG is all about being there to support the mission and being accessible."
The deployment provided training opportunities for pilots from the 175th EFS to integrate with pilots from other fighter squadrons to conduct large force exercises. It also demonstrated the U.S. military's contribution to the Asia- Pacific rebalance by maintaining training and operational readiness.
"It's been very helpful both personally and professionally," said Capt. Blake Schneider, 175th EFS F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and assistant director of weapons and tactics. "For instance, we had another three fighter squadrons at Kunsan, Osan and the Republic of Korea air force we weren't used to working with. Working on that kind of scale and dealing with the challenge of working into that schedule is unique for us because we're accustomed to owning the airspace back home."
The 175th EFS bolstered the Wolf Pack's mission by generating 675 sorties and 911 flight hours. They also conducted three generation exercises, one large force exercise and maintainers and pilots to support Exercise Beverly Midnight 15-4 in July. Through these sorties and flight hours, they were able to partake in unique opportunities to integrate into joint, coalition and bilateral training across diverse environments.
"I think our Airmen hit a home run," said Maj. Kelly Petterson, 175th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. "They took it as a challenge to showcase their talents."
Older, more experienced guardsmen were also able to pass down their knowledge to younger active duty Airmen.
"Guardsmen are kind of looked at as weekend warriors, but most of us, myself included, were prior active duty Airmen," Petterson said. "We pass that experience and kind of nurture the younger folks. I think that's the biggest benefit the ANG brings to the table."
Maintainers from the 175th EFS also provided support to aircraft in both the 8th FW and the 175th EFS.
"My goal, from a maintenance perspective, was to successfully integrate, yet continue the upgrade training of our Airmen to 5-levels and 7-levels," Petterson said. "We did a good job of pushing training, while simultaneously being ready to go and fight tonight."
In fact, many of the guardsmen in the 175th EFS that were previously active duty have been working on the equipment and aircraft for more than 25 years. They were able to provide assistance in the electronic countermeasures, aircraft armament systems and avionics intermediate shops.
"When we integrated into the shops, we were able to help a lot of the younger active duty folks improve their areas," Petterson said. "Our guys went in there and helped out with a lot of their training so that when we leave here, the equipment will be in a lot better shape than it was when we got here. Our legacy for taking the fight north will go on after we leave."
One of the challenges that the unit overcame was understanding what the "fight tonight" posture really was and providing a contribution. Rotational deployments to host-nation allies build cooperation and bolster regional security interests and goals.
"You don't really get the full spectrum of what the Wolf Pack is all about until you get here and you see how the base is set up," Petterson said. "This is the real deal. They weren't kidding. We weren't expecting that type of air expeditionary force environment to the level that it truly is."
Being told about the mission and living through the mission are on opposite ends of the spectrum, Petterson said.
"Adapting to the environment, the facilities and the airspace was also a learning curve," Sheridan said. "It's been amazing to work with our 8th Fighter Wing and ROKAF counterparts. Above and beyond tactical execution and practice is learning about airmanship and making decisions on the fly with airspace and weather conditions that they might not be used to. The airspace was also more busy than what we were used to."
The 175th EFS is also the only unit in the ANG that flies the block 40 F-16, which is the same model F-16 that the 8th FW flies.
"We're the only ANG fighter wing that's able to integrate to the level that we did here at Kunsan," Petterson said. "Every other unit either flies block 30's, block 42's or block 52's. Our F-16's are exact carbon copies of the 8th Fighter Wing aircraft."
The 175th ANG had more than 230 maintainers and support personnel to help pilots and keep the planes flying.
"It's usually important both from an operations piece and a maintenance piece to have that right mix of people," Sheridan said. "I had 25 pilots rotating in and out due to our alert commitment at home for homeland defense. We had a great team of maintainers, administrators, a command senior staff, an aircrew flight equipment flight and an intelligence flight who supported the mission on a daily basis. We couldn't have done it without them."
While rotating pilots, one of the challenges for Sheridan was tending to missions in theater and back home at the same time.
"Since we have a local mission answering to the governor in South Dakota and a federal mission here, it's a good opportunity for us to use this as training," Petterson said. "Most of our Airmen were traditional guardsmen, which means they do two days a month, two weeks a year of training. To come to Kunsan, a place where we would go to war if called upon, bring them to this environment and work alongside active duty Airmen, they can now take that back and train the guardsmen that didn't come or the guardsmen that are coming."
The four-month deployment gave guardsmen an opportunity to increase their experience to a level that would take years to acquire in their traditional role in South Dakota.
"All the stories and everything we learned here was invaluable," Petterson said. "What we gained in 120 days was something we wouldn't have got in 5 years. It was a very steep, but rewarding learning curve for everybody. I think that's the biggest value - just being here and learning what this is all about."