With an A-10 Thunderbolt II providing combat cover from above, a New York-based HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter appeared just above the tree line in the woods of northern Michigan ready to spirit a downed pilot back to safety. And so ended another day of a week-long combat search and rescue, or CSAR, exercise centered around the Grayling Air Gunnery Range.
The Blackhawks from the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, combined with the training simulators available at the Grayling range and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, provided a new level of realism and complexity to the CSAR, said Chief Master Sgt. Alan VanPate, the senior enlisted Airman and a Joint Terminal Attack Controller assigned to Alpena.
“Working with a designated rescue squadron really allowed us to engage in a variety of different training scenarios that ramps up the experience for all the participants in the exercise,” VanPate said.
During the week-long exercise, A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft from the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne and the Michigan ANG’s 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base flew both day and evening sorties over the Grayling range, providing combat support to the various rescue scenarios. Aircraft from all three flying squadrons participated in several simulated runs, as well as a number of live-fire exercises over the range.
The Fort Wayne and the Selfridge units were able to participate in the exercise while operating from home station, minimizing training costs. The New York operated from Alpena during the exercise, March 24-28 exercise, and then planned to stay over in Alpena for several more days to execute additional live fire exercises at the Grayling range, maximizing their training opportunities with the trip to the Midwest.
Part of the realism during the CSAR exercise is the presence of three Joint Threat Emitters at the Air National Guard facilities in Alpena and Grayling - the only such emitters that are operated by the Air National Guard. The emitters can create a variety of surface to air missile threats, which forced the pilots in the exercise to survive a “hostile” environment on their way to rescue volunteer “injured” personnel on the ground.
“The environment we were able to create at Alpena and Grayling is a different one than what we have faced in recent years with operations in Afghanistan,” VanPate explained. “In this scenario, we were able to simulate an environment where we were operating against an adversary with a very sophisticated surface to air defense system.”
About 300 Air National Guard personnel, plus a small handful from other military branches participated in the exercise, according to the exercise director, Major Andrew Apsey.
“The capabilities that exist at Alpena and Grayling allow us to spin up training that is specifically tailored for a variety of units,” Apsey said. “This allows units to both come together to meet larger strategic goals and then also work individually on their unit-specific tasks in a cost-effective manner.”
“This CSAR demonstrates the broad range of training scenarios that can be created at our training centers in Alpena and Grayling not only for Air National Guard units, but for the full spectrum of U.S. and even Allied military units,” said Col. Bryan Teff, commander, Alpena CRTC. “Among the most notable exercises this year will be Operation Northern Strike, when several thousand military personnel from more than a half-dozen states will train together at the two locations over a three week period in August.”
Story by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton, 127th Wing Public Affairs, Michigan National Guard
U.S. Air National Guard photo by John S. Swanson / Released
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