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SENTRY REX provides joint-service training opportunities

SENTRY REX provides joint-service training opportunities

Story by Greg L. Davis on 02/01/2019

Air Combat Command’s 552nd Operations Group led a joint-service exercise from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, January 14-17 focusing on Combat Search and Rescue mission integration.

SENTRY REX 19-01 marks the first time in more than 20 years the 552nd OG has hosted such an exercise. A statement provided by the unit commander explained the exercise provided an opportunity for USAF and U.S. Army mission sets to be flexed to enhance Battle Management and Command and Control training in a controlled, realistic environment.

Airspace over central and southern Oklahoma were occupied by UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, MC-12 Liberty Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft and E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft while KC-135R Stratotankers loitered nearby in designated refueling tracks to provide in-flight refueling support during the exercise periods.

The scenario was drawn from real-world combat operations and included the ability to monitor personnel and vehicle movements, communications traffic and identification and analysis of enemy weapons and threats surrounding a high-value target. There were both day and nighttime scenarios to accurately replicate the world of 24 hour operations.

While air assets made up the bulk of the exercise, ground-based personnel were important elements for the exercise too. Staff Sgt. Kevin Shears, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructor with the 137th Special Operations Wing, 185th Special Operations Support Squadron, Oklahoma Air National Guard, said it was important for members of his unit to participate. “This gave us as TACPs familiarization and integration on a multi-domain, tactical level. It also provides our new (TACP) graduates an opportunity to get in to a new environment and work with other assets at a much higher level using the military decision making process. The ability for E-2 or E-3 (junior enlisted) operators to have access for mission planning and then work with national level assets like the E-3 AWACS is uncommon,” said Shears.

Participants came mostly from Oklahoma but were augmented by players from as a far away as North Carolina. The operational battlespace centered around Ft. Sill’s Falcon Range complex from the surface to 10,000 feet for helicopter operations and stretching hundreds of miles and tens of thousands of feet in the air for MC-12W, E-3s and E-8 operations and KC-135s in nearby refueling tracks.

While aircrew training played a large role in the scenario and exercise overall, this was done to support specific training by two distinct entities who mostly operated on the ground; the 552nd OG Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape professionals who provided the simulated downed aircrew awaiting rescue within “enemy territory” and the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers of the 137th Special Operations Wing, 185th Special Operations Support Squadron, Oklahoma Air National Guard. The 137th SOW is an ANG unit falling under the Air Force Special Operations Command. The JTACs were transported to the CSAR site by the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiments UH-60Ms to locate and secure the survivors while wearing full equipment and using weapons firing non-lethal paint rounds.

The 552nd OG commander made clear that support from Oklahoma-based joint mission partners, the Airspace Management team at Ft. Sill, Team J-STARS in Georgia and tanker support from the Air Force Reserve Command at Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina was truly appreciated.

Results from the exercise will be evaluated in the coming months and lessons learned incorporated into future events. Shears, the 185th SOSS TACP instructor said, “We hope to have more fixed and rotary wing assets and a larger aggressor (red air) force. We’re also going to do a lot more work and walking under night vision googles.”

“Overall, the exercise was a huge success,” said the 552nd OG commander. So much so that there will be an, opportunity to host again in September 2019.”

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