Reserve Citizen Airmen, Marines complete Tropic Koa ACE

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Missy Sterling
  • 442d Fighter Wing

More than 270 Reserve Citizen Airmen and active-duty members return from the 442d Fighter Wing led exercise Tropic Koa ACE, a three-week joint readiness training held Feb. 11 - March 2 at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“We trained to the inherent challenges of deploying a large footprint to a bare base operation,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Chappel, 442d Operations Group Chief of Standardization/Evaluation. “It also provided us great exposure to the unique environments of the Pacific region.”

The Airmen participated in joint training exercises with multiple Marine units across the Hawaiian Islands, providing the 442d its first ever unit training experience with Marine rotary wing assets.

Participating units included the 442 FW’s active-duty associate, the 358th Fighter Squadron and the Wing’s geographically separated unit, the 476th Fighter Group, stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. An additional two A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft pilots assigned to the 47th Fighter Squadron, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., also contributed their operational expertise to the exercise.

Many different career fields from the 442d supported the mission as well. The command post personnel established a communications system that rivaled most bare base operations, Chappell said. On the flightline, security forces members kept 24-hour accountability of the aircraft.  

The exercise focused on agile combat employment (ACE) and tested Airmen’s ability to operate out of an austere location with partner forces to accomplish close air support, combat search and rescue (CSAR), and forward arming and refueling point (FARP) training.

“Throughout the exercise we worked not only with Marine ground crews but also the aviators,”  said Lt. Col. Rick Mitchell, 303 FS Director of Operations. “We were able to integrate forces in ways we don’t see at home station like having Marine forward air controllers directing A-10 airstrikes on targets that they find.”

Marine Corps AH-1Z Viper helicopter pilots assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 participated in close air support alongside A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft. In addition, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor helicopter with the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 268 served as the primary asset to transport a simulated downed pilot in the CSAR exercise with the Airmen.

“Being able to work with the Marine Corps and integrate forces allows us to practice for combat operations,” said Mitchell. “Some of our younger pilots have never worked with a marine helicopter, so it provides valuable capabilities and tactics integration training for our pilots and the Marine pilots as well.”

In the combat search and rescue scenario, coordinated efforts from an HC-130J Combat King II assigned to the 71st Rescue Squadron, Moody AFB, Ga., with the Marine forces and 303 FS A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft pilots, resulted in a successful simulated tactical recovery of aircraft personnel. Ultimately, the simulated downed pilot made contact with the recovery forces who located the pilot, authenticated his identity, provided a medical evaluation, then transported the pilot to the Osprey to be airlifted out of the hostile zone. 

“We refined combat search and rescue tactics with the HC-130 asset,” said Lt. Col. Todd Riddle, 303rd FS Commander. “The HC-130 successfully executed the Airborne Mission Commander role by completing the initial electronic search and contact with the survivor. They also coordinated the assets that recovered the survivor while maintaining control of the airspace.”

Ground forces also played a big role in the exercise. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers with the Navy, Marines and Air Force and Joint Fires Observers with the Army enhanced their techniques during Tropic Koa ACE by directing maneuvers and communicating targets during training scenarios with the A-10s to complete tactical air controller evaluations.

Parts of the exercise required controllers to maintain command and control in a mountainous terrain in the midst of a thick canopy according to Maj. Aaron Moore, the assistant director of operations assigned to the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron, aligned with the 25th Infantry Division at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii.

“Essentially, our goal is to get in, get an aircraft on target quickly, employ munitions and get back out with both controllers and the aircraft,” said Moore. He coordinated all the learning objectives for the controllers during Tropic Koa.

During the three-week exercise, A-10 pilots logged 152 sorties and more than 350 flying hours, resulting in the successful accomplishment of numerous learning objectives and strengthening of crisis-response capabilities in the Pacific region.