815th Airlift Squadron provides support for Operation Southern Strike

Lt. Col. Timothy Weiher, a pilot with the 815th Airlift Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, equipped with night vision goggles, prepares to fly a training mission to drop paratroopers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to establish a Forward Army Refueling Point in support of the Operation Southern Strike exercise in South Mississippi Oct. 29, 2014. The 815th AS is an Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.The 160th SOAR is headquartered in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Brian Lamar) 1 / 1 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lt. Col. Timothy Weiher, a pilot with the 815th Airlift Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, equipped with night vision goggles, prepares to fly a training mission to drop paratroopers from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to establish a Forward Army Refueling Point in support of the Operation Southern Strike exercise in South Mississippi Oct. 29, 2014. The 815th AS is an Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.The 160th SOAR is headquartered in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Brian Lamar) (Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Brian Lamar) VIEW ORIGINAL

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — A large mechanical whir fills the back of the C-130J as the back ramp doors begin to slowly open like a pair of iron jaws. Chief Master Sgt. Troy Peltier, a loadmaster with the 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler, turns to the 25 paratroopers from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) as they peer into the coal-black night, and signals for them to get ready to plunge into darkness Oct. 29.

It’s time to jump

A dim green glow fills the cargo bay of the C-130J. All white light sources have been switched to a type of lighting that helps the paratrooper’s eyes adjust to the night as they prepare to jump. Screams of commands like, “Stand Up, Hook Up,” fill the bay as the first load of paratroopers hook their parachute equipment to a long cable called a static line which will pull their parachute from their packs when they exit the aircraft. With the doors open and the cool, but humid night air churning in the plane, the signal to go is screamed and without hesitation, the first six men step off the end of the ramp one-by-one.

At 1,250 feet, it will take a handful of seconds for the troops to reach the ground as they jump into the night sky at 150 miles per hour. The jump is a small part of a large-scale two-week training exercise called Operation Southern Strike 15, which is taking place over most of South Mississippi and involves more than 50 separate military units.

According to Army 1st Sgt. Shawn Ludwig, a paratrooper with the 160th headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, only about six paratroopers can jump at one time due to the smallness of the drop zone so the plane made several passes to safely drop all 25 soldiers on target. Making repeated passes over the same area can be a dangerous assignment for aircrew in an active combat zone.

Tactical Insertion

According to the exercise scenario, the 815thAirlift Squadron’s task was to take the 160th paratroopers to a specific location over the fictitious country of the People’s Bayou Republic, which in reality is the Camp Shelby, National Guard Training Center, to establish and secure a Forward Arming and Refueling Point for helicopters to land and fill their fuel tanks during one of the many scenarios of the operation.

“This is great practice. Anytime you jump at night, it refines your capabilities and is extremely worthwhile,” said Ludwig, as he checked the troop next to him for deficiencies in his equipment.

The 160th SOAR is an Army special operations unit also known as the Night Stalkers. The 160th provides helicopter aviation support for general purpose forces and special operations forces. Its missions include attack, assault, and reconnaissance, and are usually conducted at night, at high speeds, low altitudes, and on short notice.

According to Maj. William Miller, 815th AS aircraft commander, the mission was a success as all 25 special-forces paratroopers exited the C-130J and were tactical inserted into the battlefield on time and on target.

The 815th mission is to support theater commanders with the ability to resupply the forces, provide airlift requirements within the combat zone or forward areas and provide aeromedical evacuation. The unit performs precision air drop of supplies and paratroopers in all weather conditions either day or night and can perform day or night airlift capabilities in hostile areas.

“You can’t measure success [in training] by how things went. Success, in my opinion, is measured on what you learn, and how you are able to implement what you learn from a training mission,” said Miller.

Training how you fight

The purpose for Operation Southern Strike is to test the participating Active Army and Air Force Units, as well as, Army and Air National Guard and Reserve unit’s ability to provide cost effective and realistic combat training in a Joint and Multi-national environment.

This exercise provides units with practice in close air support, en-route casualty care, combat search and rescue, special operations forces and suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses in a counter-insurgency scenario.

The goal of the exercise is to provide training opportunities to maintain top combat readiness in all assigned unit tasking code specialties, said Col. Craig Ziemba, the Southern Strike Exercise director with the Mississippi Air National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi.

The exercise is designed to use scenarios to simulate what is happening in Russia and Ukraine, said Ziemba.

“What’s happening right here on the coast would be similar to if Russia suddenly decided to take some more land space and declare a ‘no-fly zone’ over it and say, ‘it’s ours,'” said Ziemba.

The 815th also supported the exercise by flying an aeromedical evacuation mission Oct. 30, to test the en-route patient care methods and technology on the battlefield by transforming their C-130J into a flying hospital.

While, the 815th crew handled their part of the mission of flying injured troops to a medical staging area, the medical personnel in the back of the plane, simulated life-saving techniques used in areas of operation like Afghanistan.

“This was a great opportunity to demonstrate and test our capability,” said Lt. Col. Robert Stanton, the 403rd Operations Group deputy commander.

Source: US Army

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