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Dover AFB delivers in Joint Forcible Entry exercise

A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 3rd Airlift Squadron prepares to load personnel and equipment in support of the Joint Forcible Entry exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevdada, Dec. 5, 2020.  The 436th AW supported exercise JFE 19B by sending C-17 aircraft to the Nevada Test and Training Range to conduct airlift operations. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 3rd Airlift Squadron prepares to load personnel and equipment in support of the Joint Forcible Entry exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevdada, Dec. 5, 2020. The 436th AW supported exercise JFE 19B by sending C-17 aircraft to the Nevada Test and Training Range to conduct airlift operations. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, NV, UNITED STATES --

A C-17 Globemaster III aircrew with the 3rd Airlift Squadron participated in a Joint Forcible Entry exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Dec. 5-7, 2020. JFEX is a large-scale air mobility exercise simulating joint forcible entry and control of an airfield in a contested environment to assess and enhance combat capabilities.

The exercise included several non-standard practices such as landing a nearly 500,000-pound C-17 on a dry lake bed, leveraging Air Mobility Forces as key role players in near-peer conflict and other simulations designed to serve as a capstone project for Air Force Weapons School.

As an air-land squadron, the 3rd AS aircrew members were tasked with delivering two High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to the austere location and exfiltrating on a strict timeline.

“The HIMARS can be transported by C-130J [Super Hercules] as well, but the C-17 has the capability to carry two [systems],” said Capt. Steve Tice, 436th Airlift Wing exercise coordinator and 3rd Airlift Squadron pilot.

The C-17 first landed at Creech AFB where a U.S. Army HIMARS unit drove the weapon away and conducted a live-fire exercise. After the HIMARS was loaded back onto the aircraft, the C-17 continued on to a blacked-out lake bed for dirt-landing training.

Beyond the geology of the runway, the challenge was amplified by the dynamics of a simulated air war raging overhead with dozens of air drops occurring nearby in a limited area which consisted of equipment and personnel.

"That's not really the time or place to be nervous," said Capt Robert Burkhardt-Dowd, pilot 3rd Airlift Squadron. "The rest of the exercise and the rest of the players are all pretty reliant on you staying on time. The goal of the mission is to land on time so you don’t [create] a snowball effect on other aircraft and ultimately on the operation as a whole.”

After landing, the crew worked as a team to configure the C-17 cargo bay in an innovative way efficiently and effectively moving cargo. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tillmon, 3rd Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and his team marked vehicle placement positions annotating what chains and types of patterns to use.

“It also allowed us to use non-qualified loadmaster personnel [pilots] effectively,” said Tillmon. “We pointed at the tape and [the pilots] made it happen.”

According to the crew, it was a simple methodology that proved highly effective.

“It is a crew aircraft, and we have a singular vector to accomplish the mission,” said Burkhardt-Dowd. “Everybody who was available was down there either loosening chains or tightening chains.”

After reloading, the aircraft took off and exited the area using a low-level flight path.

“We’re technically deployable 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Capt. Mary Kuegler, 3rd Airlift Squadron pilot. “At any time, the C-17 community would have to perform at this level.”

While the JFEX challenged the crew to adapt and overcome, Burkhardt-Dowd says there is not growth without discomfort.

“You’re only going to get better at these things if you actually attempt them,” said Burkhardt-Dowd. “And operating in a state that is not comfortable is the only way we’re going to develop. I’d rather operate in that manner [for the first time] in an exercise than if we actually did have to deploy this in the real world.”