Military News

Monday, September 06, 2010

Volk Field hosts NATO exercise

By Tech. Sgt. Jon LaDue
Wisconsin National Guard

Thirteen NATO nations teamed up with the Air National Guard and Volk Field Air National Guard Base Aug. 21 through Sept. 3 to conduct an international exercise designed to increase target acquisition accuracy among member nations serving in Afghanistan, thereby reducing errant strikes.

Exercise Ramstein Rover 2010 provided training to more than 40 joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs, also referred to as forward air controllers by NATO) who will deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The JTAC's mission is to provide air-to-ground integration and coordinate close air support for coalition ground troops. They communicate with pilots in the air and commanders on the ground.

Col. Robert Redanz, Ramstein Rover exercise director from Headquarters Allied Air Command Ramstein, said all of the JATCs will deploy to Afghanistan in the next year - some in a few weeks - and he expressed NATO's desire to minimize the negative impact of combat in Afghanistan.

"One of our overarching priorities is to minimize civilian casualties," Redanz said. "We're trying to make sure when we hit that target, it's not women and children. We go to extreme lengths to make sure that doesn't happen. This training has been phenomenal."

Although all of the exercise participants have been trained by their respective countries, Ramstein Rover utilized scenarios seen in Afghanistan to provide more realistic training.

"The NATO guys, in their countries, don't necessarily get the kind of training that we're getting here," said Capt. Wes Hoeper, an F-16 pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing. The realistic scenarios at Volk Field will help the NATO service members when encountering similar situations in Afghanistan, he said.

"Obviously when things are going bad, and the ground commander needs weapons on the ground, then is not the time to see it for the first time," Hoeper said.

Controllers also gained experience in managing multiple platforms simultaneously. The Air National Guard provided F-16s from Iowa and Madison's 115th Fighter Wing and a KC-135 Stratotanker from Milwaukee's 128th Air Refueling Wing. The Air Force and Air Force Reserve provided a B-1 Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and A-10s from Missouri's Air Force Reserve Base, respectively. The Wisconsin Army National Guard also participated in the exercise with their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and multiple RQ-7 "Shadow" unmanned aerial vehicles.

Some of these airframes may be unfamiliar to participants from the NATO countries which included Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, which includes nearby Hardwood Range, is one of four regional training centers in the Air National Guard. Despite consistent joint and international training at Volk, Ramstein Rover is the first NATO exercise to be held at the CRTC.

Col. Gary Ebben, Volk Field commander, said Volk Field is unique in that it controls its own airspace, maintains its own bombing range and can host thousands of service members at a time.

"We kind of look at ourselves as one-stop shopping," Ebben said.

Redanz agreed.

"There aren't many training ranges that allow us to do the live munitions and air control," he said. "The support and facilities here along with the availability of the aircraft has just been ideal for us."

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