ABOARD USS JOHN C. STENNIS (NNS) -- USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), along with more than 9,000 Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, reserve and National Guard units, successfully concluded Operation Northern Edge 2004 in June, bringing an end to Alaska's premier annual military training exercise.
The joint training exercise, which ran from June 7 through June 16, was designed to enhance interoperability among the various branches by sharpening and honing joint service techniques and procedures.
"This operation was a test of the Navy and the other services' ability to jointly operate in a strike operation," said Capt. David Buss, Stennis commanding officer. "In that regard, I think the operation was a tremendous success."
This year, Northern Edge training focused on air-centric tactics and procedures with an emphasis on air-to-air, air-to-ground, and on personnel recovery operations in remote areas of the Pacific Alaska Range Complex (PARC) near Fairbanks, Alaska, and over water in the Gulf.
Along with aircraft from the Stennis Strike Group, several other fighter units participated, including the Pacific Air Forces, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing from Okinawa, Japan, and other air wings from around the world.
During the training, the blue force (good guys), composed of Navy, Marine and Air Force fighter aircraft, went up against an OPFOR [opposition force] made up of F-15 Eagle aircraft from Elmendorf, Alaska, and Mountain Home, Idaho.
Back on land, Marines provided command and control for close-air support missions in the PARC, where ranges were staged with a variety of structures, vehicles and equipment for aircraft, to target with both live and inert ordnance.
Also on the PARC, Army and Air Force special operation forces practiced personnel recovery tactics, such as rescuing a downed pilot from a high threat area without the use of a helicopter. They also provided their own OPFOR to enhance the realism of the training.
"Most notably, the John C. Stennis Strike Group team continued to hone its warfighting skills and abilities to interact in a joint service environment, reacting as one cohesive team to a multitude of real-world crisis scenarios," Rear Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander, Carrier Group 7 said.
Northern Edge, which is traditionally held in the cold weather months, was moved to June this year to accommodate the worldwide scheduling of combat forces and availability of the carrier strike group. Though most flight operations went according to plan, naval aviators frequently operated in low visibility conditions with thick cloud ceilings over the Gulf.
"The weather provides some interesting challenges from an exercise control perspective," said Buss. "We experienced rough weather, but overall, it was nothing unusual, and it's just part of dealing with the climatology in Alaska."
Next year, Northern Edge will focus on homeland security, as it will each successive odd-numbered year.
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