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Hill AFB fighter wing completes large-scale, local simulated combat exercise

By Ryan Aston - | Apr 4, 2024

Photo supplied, Micah Garbarino, U.S. Air Force

Airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, offload fuel from a C-17 into a fuel truck as F-35A Lightning IIs wait on the ramp to be refueled at Historic Wendover Airfield in Utah on March 27, 2024.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Exercises to help main combat readiness occur with some regularity at Hill Air Force Base. In recent weeks, the active-duty 388th and reserve 419th fighter wings have conducted night-flying operations with the F-35A Lightning II aircraft.

However, the intensity was ratcheted up several notches last week when the 388th practiced agile combat employment, dubbed ACE, with the F-35A during a large-force exercise in Utah and Idaho.

According to information shared by Hill’s media arm, the exercise, which ran from March 22-29, was the first locally generated ACE exercise created by the 388th Fighter Wing, and it challenged airmen to defend themselves, the base and their aircraft alongside the execution of their regular duties.

“I’m extremely happy with the wing’s performance and the challenges we created at a local level,” Col. Mike Gette, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a release. “With the locations and scenarios, the planners were able to force a lot of tough decisions for our airmen. With that, we were able to hone the skills that will make us more lethal and agile in combat.”

The ACE component was part of a larger exercise hosted by the 388th, in conjunction with the 366th Fighter Wing at Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base, and also featured F-15s, B-1s, E-3s, EA-18s, C-17s and KC-135s.

It saw airmen in the 34th Fighter Squadron and Fighter Generation Squadron operate from Hill AFB, as well as “contingency locations” at Historic Wendover Airfield and Mountain Home AFB, putting them in difficult scenarios along the way.

Combat training missions emanating from Hill’s alert facility were flown by the main force; smaller teams forward deployed to contingency locations, where they operated for several days. The respective teams operated as if they were under constant threat of attack from cruise missiles and small-arms fire throughout the exercise.

“This feels more like the real thing than our daily training,” Senior Airman Samuel Davis, an F-35 crew chief in the 34th Fighter Generation Squadron, said in the release. “It’s the first time since basic training that I’ve been in full gear and carrying a weapon 24/7.”

As part of the training scenario, an incoming cruise missile caused an alarm at Hill, which served as the forward operating station for the exercise. Meanwhile, opposition ground forces — portrayed by members of the 75th Security Forces Squadron — were attacking the remote airfields simultaneously.

The release noted that leadership was “killed off” or “injured” and temporarily taken out during the exercise, which forced younger airmen into roles they may not be comfortable with.

“We’re putting them in an environment, with flak jackets and guns and giving them a lot more to worry about than just launching jets,” Master Sgt. Bradley Flinn, the wing inspection team lead at Wendover, said in the release. “You hear ‘forming, norming and storming,’ it’s been very much that as they have progressed through the scenarios — a steady improvement.”


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