By Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem, 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 09, 2016
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Pilots, maintainers and various support personnel from the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing traveled to Hawaii to participate in Sentry Aloha, Aug. 17-26, 2016.
Sentry Aloha is a large-scale, combat exercise that employs several different fighter and support aircraft from varying Air Force units, maneuvering together in a simulated wartime environment.
Various aircraft - C-130s, KC-135s, C-17s, F-16s, F-15s, F-22s - lined the ramps along Hickam's runway in order to perform strategic joint combat operations.
"Part of the purpose of Sentry Aloha is to integrate with the other Guard platforms as well as some active duty units that are here to better understand how each other operates, so if called upon for some type of contingency, we have a backbone to fall on - that we've operated together, and we can all be force multipliers for each other," said Lt. Col. Kristian Thiele, a 149th Fighter Wing F-16 instructor pilot.
Performing these coordinated scenarios with other type of aircraft was a chance for the 149th FW pilots to broaden their scope of training.
"Back home, we typically fight F-16s against F-16s, so to get to work on the same team with other aircraft, both F-15s and F-22s, teaches everyone how the different systems work and how we can all work together, enhancing our strength," said Lt. Col. Louis Davenport, another 149th FW F-16 pilot.
Davenport is a traditional Guardsman who typically comes to the unit to fly the F-16 aircraft once a month during Unit Training Assembly weekends, or "drill" as it's known among Guard members.
"This really provides me an opportunity to get to know everyone and figure out what's going on in the unit and to just get a greater opportunity for continuity of learning," Davenport said. "I mean, I'm here flying at least one mission a day, so it really compounds our capabilities, at least for me, instead of being like, 'well, that was great and now I'm going to do my other job.' Now I've got two weeks of intense training."
Since the primary mission of the 149th FW is to train and create combat capable F-16 pilots, this exercise also added unique value to the pilots' distinctive skill set.
"We are definitely fighting some pretty difficult scenarios, learning a lot of good lessons based on those scenarios," said Thiele. "We don't necessarily get the opportunity to do a lot of this high-level integration with very robust threats so we are getting a lot out of it, and I think a kind of 're-blueing' as we would call it in our community - getting to see a lot of these newer combat tactics and be involved in it."
The fighter pilots weren't the only ones involved in the exercise. Several supporting agencies from the wing traveled by military airlift to offer their assistance for this year's training as well, which featured more than 40 aircraft from eight other states.
Capt. Christopher Myers, a logistics readiness officer with the 149th FW's Logistics Readiness Squadron, understands the kind of effort it takes to pull off an event of this scale. Myers, who was in charge of requesting airlift and arranging many of the logistical details that go into deploying nearly 80 personnel, began the planning several months in advance.
"There's a lot that goes into planning these things out - a lot more than people realize," Myers said in regards to figuring out details like cargo, bus transportation, securing forklift operators, and all the other minutiae a trip like this entails. He likened it to putting out fires, where once you put one out, another one pops up.
"It basically comes down to thinking through the entire process," Myers said. "That's the hardest part is trying to think through the whole process - all the variables and everything that can go wrong."
The host of support is not lost on the fighter pilots training in this exercise. They know a lot of people are behind them to make a mission like Sentry Aloha happen.
"Everyone has been able to launch their full complement of aircraft so we can conduct the mission because of the great support from not only the Sentry Aloha staff providing for us here but obviously also just the internal unit - the folks we bring along to make the mission happen," Thiele said.
And for Thiele, that team effort is much of what makes the Guard shine during these types of training events.
"This is Guard-centric exercise, typically, but what I really think it shows is how important the Guard is to not only the overall structure of the Air Force but also the military in general and what we bring to the fight," he said. "You've got F-22s here at Hickam that are on the leading edge of what's going on here in PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) and PACOM (U.S. Pacific Command) and they're a Guard unit. Same with the (F-15) Eagles that are down here, so getting to bring in some stateside guys, getting them a little taste into what's going on right now in PACAF and PACOM, then seeing that from an entire Guard perspective how we can do stuff - I think it's good for the Guard and good for everyone else to see how involved we are around the world."