NAVAL AIR STATION KEY WEST, Fla. --
New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing rapidly deployed Airmen, aircraft and equipment to Naval Air Station Key West, Fla. Jan. 8, 2022, as part of an exercise to accomplish important flight training and to prepare for the NJ ANG's first Agile Combat Employment (ACE) training exercise at Muñiz Air National Guard Base, Carolina, Puerto Rico 21-23 Jan.
177th Fighter Wing maintenance, operations, logistics, security and communications personnel built load plans, secured airlift, loaded and transported equipment and personnel from their base at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. to Boca Chica Field, Fla.
“We were able to make this trip happen in one week, from when they said go, the trip is approved,” said Lt. Col. Brian Grossweiler, commander of the 119th Fighter Squadron. “In order to make that happen, our Logistics Readiness Squadron did an incredible job with booking airlift, getting load plans built in less than a week’s time to get our ops and maintenance team down here and operate.“
In Key West, the unit generated numerous training sorties with dissimilar aircraft, and took advantage of good weather to accomplish some important training requirements.
“We’re getting dissimilar air combat training while we’re out here, which is really just anytime we get to fight a non-F16 aircraft,” said Capt. Timothy Mann, chief of scheduling for the 119th Fighter Squadron. “We get very used to fighting an F-16, whether it is similarly matched and has similar maneuvers and tactics, but down here we’ve had the opportunity to fight Navy F-18 Super Hornets and also Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers. It’s always good to see a different airplane, they have different sizes, different tactics, they fly different air speeds, so we get to see that here…stuff we don’t get in Atlantic City.”
In addition to training with dissimilar aircraft, the trip is enhancing the unit’s pilot qualifications and upgrades.
“We’re accomplishing two pilot qualification programs while we’re here, the first of which is called mission qualification training or MQT and that is where we take a new Wingman who has qualified the F-16B course and we get them spun up on our squadron’s tactics and doc statements that we’re tasked to support,” said Mann. “We’re also doing the “FLUG” program, which is the flight lead upgrade, where we have pilots who have been with us for about a year or two years now, have gone on some deployments and now they are learning how to fight those same tactics to a higher level of proficiency, but now they’re also leading those flights.”
The unit is now focused on the next portion of the exercise, ACE, at Muniz Air National Guard Base, Carolina, Puerto Rico.
The service’s first Agile Combat Employment (ACE) doctrine note was signed in Dec. 2021 by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown and units across the Air Force are adapting to the new warfighting construct.
“This is kind of different as the Air Force is changing the way they deploy, so the state worked together with our sister units, the 108th Wing and their 141st Air Refueling Squadron. The intent of this ACE is to go to a location, set up an operation, adapt and execute,” said Grossweiler. “Basically what we do is empower people and we say here’s the mission, how do we get there and we figure it out.”
The sunshine, clear skies and 70 degree weather of Key West helped the 177FW maximize flying and was also a morale boost for the Airmen on the trip. Being part of something new was also inspiring.
“What really matters is that it’s taking a minute for everybody to get on the same page for what ACE means. What’s really exciting for us is that we’re at the ground level of doing it for the Air National Guard,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jake Wheeler, senior enlisted leader with the 177th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “That’s exciting because we get to share lessons learned with the National Guard Bureau and with Air Combat Command and we can help shape the future of ACE when that doctrine translates down into policy at our functional level.”