Many area residents may have wondered recently about the noticeable increase in thunderously loud military aircraft zooming overhead, particularly tactical aircraft like F-15 Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons. Rest assured Coastal Georgia has not been under attack.
Operation Global Guardian, an Air National Guard-sponsored training exercise, began Feb. 13 and concluded Thursday, Feb. 23.
More than 1,300 National Guardsmen, Air National Guardsmen, active-duty soldiers and emergency medical teams from the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force took part in the exercise. The Georgia Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Savannah served as the exercise command center.
On Thursday, media were invited to observe the training and talk to airmen and soldiers as they practiced decontaminating personnel and equipment, emergency medical operations, preventative medicine group operations and mobile emergency (communications) operations.
Montana Air National Guard Master Sgt. Amber Westie explained how her mobile team identifies unknown hazards, whether they’re radiological, biological or chemical.
“If there’s a disaster, we work with local first responders to identify unknown hazards then we advise first responders how to contain it,” she said. “We also have a public-health specialist to work with and help educate the public during such a disaster for things like food and water contamination.”
Florida Air National Guard Airman Mitch Snead explained the capabilities of a portable communications kit, which he took from a trailer filled with equipment that can be used to set up satellite reception, Internet and television in about 15 minutes. Chief Master Sgt. Doug Lang said his unit works with Homeland Security during natural disasters and in incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, on the airfield, U.S., Dutch and Canadian medical personnel set up and ran emergency medical operations centers, where they received simulated casualties transported in UH-47 helicopters.
Tactical aircraft operations unfolded on McIntosh County’s Townsend Range. Following a safety briefing by range personnel, F-16 pilot Capt. Jeff Beckman of the South Carolina Air National Guard talked about the planned exercises.
“The F-16s we’re going to see today will be dropping live ordnance,” he said, explaining that the trailing aircraft would actually be firing 20-milimeter cannons as the lead aircraft simulated firing. “We worked a lot with both Dutch and Canadian emergency medical teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I think a large-force, integration exercise like this one is very important. It’s the first one in recent years.”
As members of the media and military stood on a 20-foot platform overlooking the range, Lt. Col. Nigel Atkins, Texas Air National Guard and Joint Terminal Attack Controller team leader, explained radio messages coming in from the aircraft to his controllers on the ground.
JTAC units work with Army, Navy and Marine units to coordinate and request air support, said Atkins, who is a former F-16 pilot.
“Our guys are trained to do what the Air Force needs us to do to coordinate air support,” he said. “But about 80 percent of our time is spent getting to the target on the ground with the combat forces we support. That’s why we try to get our guys through all the combat courses we can — airborne school, Ranger school, sniper school.”
The 10-day exercise concluded with a closing ceremony and comments by Maj. Gen. Thomas Moore, commander of the Georgia Air National Guard, and Col. Todd Freesemann, CRTC commander.