Green Mountain Boys Prove They Are 'Agile'

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell
  • 158th Fighter Wing

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (April 6, 2023) – The Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing tested their ability to deploy and remain operational during an exercise which simulated an attack on their base throughout the first week of April.

The exercise, at the South Burlington Air National Guard base, played out that buildings lost power, infrastructure was disabled and runways were bombed, necessitating that the 158th conduct missions from a forward operating location.

Taking six F-35A Lightning II jets and a minimal amount of Airmen and resources, the Green Mountain Boys put to test the Multi-Capable Airman concept. This pushes to the limits of just how little Airmen can they get by with to launch jets and execute tactical missions, in a new type of exercise known as “ACE.”

“ACE is short for ‘agile combat employment’ and it’s a phrase we’ve been talking about in the Air Force for a couple of years now,” said Dr. Sandeep Mulgund, senior advisor to the deputy chief of staff for operations at Headquarters, Air Force, at the Pentagon.

“The idea behind ACE is that air power faces a new set of challenges today that we haven’t had to worry about for quite some time,” he continued.

Mulgund explained that these threats come from cyber attacks and new types of missile attacks that today can be carried out by drones. All of this is happening while there is a smaller overseas Air Force than the U.S. has had in the past from which to respond from.

“Back in World War II we had, plus or minus, 93 overseas bases,” Mulgund said. “Now that number is down to 33.”

This new concept shifts away from being reliant on overseas bases and focuses on Airmen being able to setup operations in a wider variety of locations.

One question that needed to be answered was how does the Air National Guard fit into the idea of ACE, Mulgund said.

“This exercise is the realization of all these ideas,” he continued.

On April 2, the exercise kicked off with aircraft, Airmen and resources needing to be deployed in a short amount of time in response to an attack.

The New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing arrived from Newburg, New York, with a C-17A Globemaster III to take Airmen and cargo to their simulated deployed location at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum, New York.

More than 60 Airmen including pilots, maintenance technicians communications specialists and airfield managers, among other specialties, made their way to facilities run by the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing.

At Fort Drum, the 174th hosted the training by providing buildings to work out of, managing air space as well as a live-fire range where inert 2,000 pound GBU-31 bombs could be dropped on targets.

“We’re seeing how much we can do, without much,” said Tech. Sgt. Jacon Kenney, an F-35 crew chief assigned to the 158th Maintenance Group.

“We’re figuring out what our strengths and what our weaknesses are, and improve on both,” Kenney said.

Missions began the next day after landing, with sorties of four F-35s taking off twice a day to engage targets with their GPS-guided bombs. All of this while making the best of vital systems back at their home base in South Burlington which were brought down as a result of the simulated attacks.

Kenney said that training out of Fort Drum was key because they were able to provide a minimalist base that was not made for permanent F-35 operations like they are used to. This allowed the Green Mountain Boys to train on supporting themselves with minimal resources, he continued.

“Our Airmen are incredible,” Kenney said. “I’ve never seen how many things someone is willing to do to get the mission done. Its really incredible.”

The purpose of the Multi-Capable Airman concept is to have Airmen familiar with a variety of specialties in order to allow for units to deploy with fewer personnel if need be.

“It’s really fun to watch everyone get zeroed in on, not so much what their AFSC is supposed to be doing, but what needs to be done to get the jets going,” Kenney said. “The group we have is very adaptable.”

“It’s a lot of work and that's OK,” he continued.

Mulgund expressed his amazement with the 158th Airmen and their ability to launch jets and get the mission accomplished no matter what difficult circumstances they were in, bringing the idea of ACE to life.

“That sends a signal to our adversaries and our allies of what our capabilities are,” he said.