388th Fighter Wing completes first large scale, locally-generated ACE exercise

  • Published
  • By Micah Garbarino
  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Airmen in the 388th Fighter Wing practiced Agile Combat Employment with the F-35A Lightning II during a large force exercise in Utah and Idaho last week.

From March 22-29, Airmen in the 34th Fighter Squadron and Fighter Generation Squadron operated from Hill Air Force Base and “contingency locations” at Historic Wendover Airfield in Wendover, Utah, and Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. This was the first locally-generated ACE exercise created by the 388th FW.

The ACE exercise was part of a larger exercise hosted by the 388th Fighter Wing in conjunction with the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home, featuring F-15s, B-1s, E-3s, EA-18s, C-17s and KC-135s.

“I’m extremely happy with the wing’s performance and the challenges we created at a local level,” said Col. Mike Gette, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “With the locations and scenarios, the planners were able to force a lot of tough decisions for our Airmen.  With that, we were able to hone the skills that will make us more lethal and agile in combat.”

Throughout the week, a main force operated and flew combat missions from Hill’s alert facility, which served as the forward operating station, while smaller teams of Multi-Capable Airmen forward deployed to contingency locations and operated there for several days, waiting to generate combat sorties when the jets were forced to move from the FOS.

“When the jets show up and we catch them, fuel them and launch them, that’s the easy part. I’m highly confident in our ability to do that,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Ewing, one of the maintenance team leads at the Wendover contingency location. “It’s the other stuff where we need to get better – the cargo processing, site security, surviving – all the things we haven’t normally done as maintainers.”

The teams at the forward operating station and both contingency locations were under constant threat of attack from cruise missiles and small arms fire.

As an incoming cruise missile causes an alarm at the forward operating station, opposition ground forces, played by members of the 75th Security Forces Squadron, were simultaneously attacking the remote airfields.

“This feels more like the real thing than our daily training,” said Senior Airman Samuel Davis, an F-35 crew chief in the 34th Fighter Generation Squadron. “It’s the first time since basic training that I’ve been in full gear and carrying a weapon 24/7.” 

During the exercise, leadership was “killed off” or “injured” and temporarily taken out of the exercise, forcing younger Airmen into roles they may not be comfortable with.

“It’s been tough for them. We’re putting them in an environment, with flak jackets and guns and giving them a lot more to worry about than just launching jets,” said Master Sgt. Bradley Flinn, Wing Inspection Team lead at Wendover. “You hear ‘forming, norming and storming,’ it’s been very much that as they have progressed through the scenarios – a steady improvement.” 

Planners say they hope to ramp up the complexity of each local ACE exercise, modeling them after larger Air Force exercises like Agile Flag and Bamboo Eagle.