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Special Operations commands train at Joint Lightning exercise

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Claire Behney
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
The grounds of the Air National Guard Schoolhouse, Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pa., was recently transformed into a forward operation base. The FOB was the simulated combat environment for this year's Air Force Special Operations Command's Annual Joint Lightning communication exercise, held June 6 to 17.

Servicemembers and Department of Defense employees from around the globe participated in the exercise, bringing together a vast amount of knowledge, capabilities and communications toys for the purpose of practicing how they deploy as a total force.

"The purpose of Joint Lightning is to bring all the cyber commands from Air Force Special Operations Command together to practice how we deploy, because we deploy as a total force organization with Guard, Reserve and active duty personnel," said Maj. James Coughlin, Air Force Forces Support Division, Communications Directorate Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations, who was also the Joint Operations Air Component commander for the exercise. "We also have personnel from Marines Special Operations, Special Operations Command Pacific and Defense Information Systems Agency to work on our interoperability to practice here in garrison what we're going to do when we deploy."

Their branches of service and locations might be different, with participants hailing from Alabama, Massachusetts, New York, and as far as Kadena Air Base, Japan, but their mission is the same.

"As Special Operations Forces our job under the United States Special Operations Command is to go out and do smaller tier events; whether it's homeland defense support, direct action and sometimes it's humanitarian missions, we have to go out where the Department of Defense and the United States Government require a smaller footprint or a small signature and that's our job," said Maj. Coughlin.

For the Guardsmen participating in the exercise there was a unique challenge that they worked to meet, Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Rolfe, superintendent for the flight systems transmissions services, said. That challenge was to increase the traditional Airmen's familiarity with the high tech communications equipment because only working with it two days a month makes it difficult to retain the fluency required to navigate the equipment.

AFSOC has given us the communication toys that we play with. We have to see what we don't have on the road right now, bring that to the exercise and we do our best to train on it, said Sergeant Rolfe.

Practicing like they fight and maintaining knowledge of equipment is key to upholding what is required of communicators in their career field.

"The National Guard and the Reserves are helping headquarters AFSOC maintain and fulfill our deployments," said Albert Reyna, Air Force Special Operations Command Expeditionary Communications Contingency Plans manager and Joint Lightning exercise coordinator. "We rely heavily on the Air National Guard to keep us communicating and keep AFSOC dominating the air like we do."

Achieving mission success while deployed comes from the combined efforts of communicators, regardless of branch of military service.

"The uniqueness about the communicators is we don't have a specific air frame that we provide services for and within the communications team we'll get communicators from the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, active duty units, and the Air National Guard itself is very important to our mission," said Reyna.