Pa. Air National Guard wings enhance ops through Iron Keystone exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bela Vaszlavik and Tech. Sgt. Ted Nichols
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

FORT DRUM, N.Y. – Nearly all Airmen assigned to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s (PAANG) three wings took part in Exercise Iron Keystone 2024 across the commonwealth – and other locations – with more than 90 from the 193rd Special Operations Wing taking part in the exercise’s second year at a simulated forward operating base in northern New York.

“Iron Keystone is a proof-of-concept exercise bringing together all three air wings in Pennsylvania that are geographically separated,” said Lt. Col. Kathy Fabrizi who served as Air Expeditionary Wing commander in the exercise based out of Fort Drum, New York. “There were intentional planning deficits and injects just to see how we would react. I’m really proud of how our Airmen worked together to overcome obstacles and find ways to make the mission happen and really work together to learn about each other’s career fields.” 

The mission of this year’s exercise was aimed at increasing tactical proficiency, developing a baseline knowledge in dissimilar operations and combining capabilities and resources across three major commands to maximize operational success on the modern battlefield.

“The training in Iron Keystone involved agile combat employment of all three wings in the state, as all three wings have distinct and separate capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Mike Hackman who served as exercise controller based out of Fort Drum. “When we do these training exercises, it’s a learning experience to ensure we are broadening our Airmen and they are outside their comfort zones.”

On the Fort Drum front, Airmen engaged in a variety of training exercises. These included scenarios such as responding to simulated chemical attacks and facing challenging scenarios such as negotiations with simulated wartime key leaders. They also conducted hot ground refueling and defueling operations, as well as hot crew swap scenarios. These “hot” activities required rapidly refueling and defueling aircraft on the ground while their engines were still running and swiftly swapping out aircrews to maintain operational readiness.

By practicing these critical procedures in realistic settings, the Airmen improved their ability to respond swiftly and effectively in fast-paced environments. This hands-on training – combined with teamwork and knowledge sharing – strengthened the PAANG’s capabilities to execute missions efficiently, whether they're close to home or operating in remote locations.

In all these situations, participants found themselves fulfilling a key goal part of the exercise’s goals – working alongside Airmen with different job specialties. From Security Forces specialties to tactical air control party personnel to the wide range of job specialties that supported the tactical operations center positioned at Fort Drum such as services, communications, weather, intelligence, public affairs, command and control, personnel, logistics, safety and legal – everyone was working together toward a common goal.

“It’s the first time we’ve done an exercise like this before,” said Maj. Owen Margeson, air liaison officer with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron. He explained, “We are all focused on a quasi-insertion of an enemy force trying to take a territory that isn’t theirs and trying to support that friendly country in defending their territory.”

Iron Keystone promises to remain a fixture of PAANG training regardless of the planned scenario. The lead planner for this year’s exercise was the PAANG’s Horsham-based 111th Attack Wing. Next year, the baton will be passed with the 193rd SOW, which will serve as lead planner. 

“After two years of testing our abilities through Iron Keystone, the 193rd is looking forward to being in the driver’s seat for next year’s exercise,” said Col. Edward Fink, 193rd SOW Commander. “We’ll continue to execute the exercise’s mission, improve interoperability between Pennsylvania’s three Air Wings, increase our survivability and ability to project airpower in future conflicts, and make sure our Airmen are best trained to do their jobs.”