EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (NNS) -- Exercise Northern Edge 2009, the largest biannual military training event in Alaska, came to a close June 26 after 11 successful days of joint interaction at numerous locations throughout the state.
This exercise, which involved almost 200 aircraft, provided nearly 9,000 service members from all branches of the military the opportunity to train together on, above and afloat in Alaska's massive training areas. In addition to the permanent personnel already here, almost 2,000 personnel deployed to Alaska from the United States, Japan and South Korea while another 5,000 were stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) operating the Gulf of Alaska.
"This exercise was designed to train participants in a joint environment, which is an essential element of preparation for combat," said Air Force Brigadier Gen. Mark W. Graper, 354th Fighter Wing commander. "It allows the service members to practice tactics, techniques and procedures which need to be synchronized between the different branches of the military."
Across the board, better command, control, communication and understanding between each service were some of the most important practices sharpened during the event in order to develop better interoperable plans for the future.
According to Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, commanding general of Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force, being able to train in Alaska each year is valuable because it has more than 65,000 square miles of available training space over land, and 120,000 when including the Gulf of Alaska. This space includes Alaska's Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Gulf of Alaska restricted air space, and an in-transit corridor connecting military training air space and live-fire training ranges.
"Northern Edge is the premier exercise conducted within the Pacific Command's area of responsibility," said Atkins. "It lets our joint warfighters learn about each other."
Learning about each other, and the way the varying services operate is very important, according to Air Force Maj. Lyle Dawley, Northern Edge exercise control team chief.
"Communication can be a big challenge," he said. "We don't always speak the same language whether we are on the ground or in the air."
Realistic scenarios were employed during the exercise so each unit could gain the most out of the training, particularly in the areas of defensive counter-air, close-air support, air interdiction of marine targets and personnel recovery missions.
Many of the airborne scenarios required pilots to stay in the air for long periods of time, and the Alaska National Guard's 168th Air Refueling Squadron enabled that to happen. The squadron, based at Eielson Air Force Base, flies KC-135 refuelers.
"It's like these guys are pulling into a full-service flying gas station," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tim Trefts, the squadron's wing plans officer. "This gets our fighter pilots deeper into enemy lines and cuts down on the time it takes to get air support to guys on the ground."
In another exercise scenario, members of a West Coast based Navy SEAL team trained with Fort Wainwright's Army Task Force 49, conducting security missions and insertions from CH-47D Chinooks in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. They also practiced river crossing techniques in Phelan Creek with instructors from the Northern Warfare Training Center.
"The water was pretty cold and the current was fast, but our guys weren't afraid to get in there and go to work," said one senior SEAL team member. "The training that we are learning here is invaluable. We are always looking for ways to improve skills; Northern Edge 09 gives us an opportunity to do that."
The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, which consists of the USS John C. Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9 and USS Antietam, was stationed in the Gulf of Alaska for its portion of the exercise. The carrier was the chief asset of the naval component commander in the exercise scenario, as well as providing airpower when necessary, according to a pre-exercise statement made by Navy Capt. Joseph Kuzmick, Stennis commanding officer.
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni supported the exercise at Eielson AFB with various components of personnel including Marines and Sailors with Marine Aircraft Group 12 headquarters, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, and augments from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron such as the Provost Marshal's Office and Public Affairs. Additional Marines also supported from Marine Air Control Squadron 4 out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. Also from Futenma, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 operated at Elmendorf Air Force Base., Ala. In all, approximately 290 Marines and Sailors from III Marine Expeditionary Force participated.
"Northern Edge is MAG-12's best opportunity to get together with the Navy and Air Force to practice advanced tactics in missions that are similar to what we would have to do here in the Pacific area of operations," said Lt. Col. James Walker, MAG-12 operations officer. "We work with large forces here, 50 to 60 aircraft at a time, and that's not something we get to do on a daily basis. So, this is a good opportunity for MAG-12 to train in a tactical environment."
Exercise Northern Edge is just one in a series of Pacific Command sponsored exercises that helps forces prepare to respond to potential future crises in the Asia Pacific region.
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