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News > 3rd Wing tests combat readiness in exercise Polar Force 12-4
3rd Wing tests combat readiness in exercise Polar Force 12-4

Posted 5/19/2012   Updated 5/19/2012 Email story   Print story


by Luke Waack
JBER Public Affairs

5/19/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- The 3rd Wing launched more than a dozen aircraft Saturday morning as part of exercise Polar Force 12-4, an operational readiness exercise designed to test the unit's ability to deploy.
The exercise is broken up into two parts; Phases 1 and 2. Phase 1 started Wednesday and ended Saturday.
During an "O-R-E" a unit tests its ability to prepare Airmen and aircraft to deploy and then simulate deployment and operations in a hostile environment, with all the stresses that come with it.
Polar Force 12-4 is the latest measurement of the 3rd Wing's capabilities.
"OREs are a fantastic way of testing our capacity and capability and improve where we see deficit," said Air Force Col. Dirk Smith, 3rd Wing commander, "so that when we're called upon, we export to our combatant commanders the highest caliber of warrior and capability."
Tests like this one keep 3rd Wing ready to go on short notice, Smith said.
"The 3rd Wing is America's premier air power wing," Smith said. "We provide a highly specialized skill - rapid crisis response throughout the Pacific in support of our Combatant Commander's objectives."
In Phase 1, the unit packed up its gear and readied to deploy. Units packed everything in accordance with a specific list developed for their weapons systems or mission functions - a list tailored to the essentials to do the deployed mission, according to the 3rd Wing Command Chief.
"Working closely with the 673rd Air Base Wing, members of the 3rd Wing packed and prepared their cargo for shipment to their deployed location," said Command Chief Master Sgt. Steven Bohannon, 3rd Wing command chief.
The pace is as close to a wartime footing as we can get, Bohannon said.
"Operations run continuously with the possibility of simulated attacks occurring at any time. These simulated attacks on 'Base X' are designed to test the deployed wing's ability to survive and operate," Bohannon said.
Along with needed cargo, Airmen also prepared aircraft as if they were deploying.
Aircraft were inspected to assure mission capability, and external fuel tanks were installed and munitions were loaded (and unloaded before flight for safety), Bohannon said.
"We train like we fight," Bohannon said. "We prepare cargo, personnel and aircraft to launch on a very tight, specific timeline. It is a rapid, 24/7 pace in order to meet the tasking."
Once the aircraft were deployment ready Saturday, each one took off, simulated flying to their deployed location and landed back at JBER.
This marked the beginning of the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2, Bohannon said.
"Once the cargo, personnel and aircraft are launched, there is no time to let our guard down," Bohannon said. "There will be a transition period, where we shift from home station ops to 'deployed location' ops. Chemical sensing stations are put up; personnel begin to travel with their chemical protection equipment. We advance the program to a predetermined time where our personnel have been in the Area of Operations for a while, have been working and flying in the new location. When the transition is complete, we are at 'Base X' and the Phase 2 begins."
These simulated attacks can be conventional or chemical, delivered by simulated missiles, mortars, rockets or small arms, Bohannon said.
"The Phase 2 is our test to demonstrate our ability to survive and operate under simulated combat conditions," Bohannon said. "The flying tempo is increased to that wartime footing. The simulated attacks begin -- and it is always at the most challenging time. The training we do during the ORE is as close as we can get to a real deployment. You would be hard pressed to determine if our movement was just an exercise or a real deployment."
"Once we transition to the Phase 2, the realism continues," Bohannon said.
The base's Giant Voice will be used to announce attacks and provide other information.
"Airmen hear exactly what they would expect to hear in a deployed location," Bohannon said. "From a commander's perspective, it is as real as it gets. For example, a missile or rocket is inbound and we are told Base X is targeted with a predicted time of impact. Airmen react as if it were the real thing. I have to consult with my group and squadron leaders, soliciting their inputs, assess the risk and make a decision to launch aircraft for survival or not launch knowing our aircrafts' capabilities are needed in the battle space. It forces all of us to work through a problem and make the hard decisions."
Phase One began May 16 and the Phase 2 will conclude May 23.
Throughout the week, the public may hear Giant Voice broadcasting, alarms being transmitted, maybe see or hear simulated explosions and gunfire, Bohannon said
This will be limited during night time hours, but it can be expected, he continued.
"Although the entire installation will not be affected, functions of JBER-Elmendorf may see simulated Force Protection measures, delays entering and exiting facilities," Bohannon said. "As for entry and exit to JBER, every effort will be made to keep the traffic flow moving. Please be patient and understand that you may see a few minutes of inconvenience. The inconvenience may be due to your Airmen practicing a combat skill that could save their life at a real deployed location."
The end result of the ORE will be well-trained Airmen, according to the 3rd Wing Commander.
"Our Airmen in the 3rd Wing, the 673rd Air Base Wing, and the Reservists of the 477th Fighter Group have done a tremendous job so far in this exercise," Smith said.
"I see dramatic improvement in all areas compared to our last readiness exercise in October. Our Airmen have demonstrated they take combat readiness very seriously. I am very proud of the team so far ... as we transition to Phase 2, this same intensity and combat focus will be needed. I know our Airmen are ready for the challenge," Smith said, as the JBER team wrapped up Phase 1 operations on Saturday and prepared for Phase 2 starting Monday.

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