By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons, 116th Air Control Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 20, 2012
June 20, 2012 -- Iron Dagger Joint exercise involves multiple agencies across four states
By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A great idea and several months of preparation paid big dividends June 11 through 15 as units from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., launched exercise Iron Dagger 2012.
The exercise was developed and executed in a manner reminiscent of a high-level Defense Department tasking, but it was actually a grass-roots effort, fashioned by mostly junior officers, and accomplished for a fraction of the cost normally associated with this scale of training.
Several months ago, Col. Troy Stone, 461st Operations Group commander, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., placed a call to then 4th Operations Group commander, Col. Brian Kirkwood, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. with a proposal that would benefit both wings.
Hearing that Seymour Johnson would be closing its runway for repairs in mid- June, Stone asked Doherty if they would be interested in sending a couple of F-15E Strike Eagles to Robins to conduct missions with the E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System.
Much to the surprise of Stone, Doherty offered 13 of their jets and personnel for the week.
Like a small snowball gaining size and momentum as it rolls downhill, the first-ever Iron Dagger exercise increased exponentially over the next few months, led by Maj. Jeffery Digsby, 461st OG exercise project officer.
"Bringing in the Strike Eagles allowed us to pull up our sleeves and train face-to-face in operations planning, execution and debriefing," said Digsby. "This interface enhanced the training we wanted to accomplish with the exercise."
After landing the Strike Eagles, the call went out to Department of Defense and Homeland Security assets within the Southeastern U.S. and the exercise grew from there.
If you build it, they will come
Col. Dean Worley, 461st Air Control Wing commander, likened the growth of the exercise to the theme from the movie "Field of Dreams."
"If you build it, they will come," said Worley. "Like in the movie, we got a tremendous amount of response."
By the time the exercise kicked off June 11, more than $1 billion worth of joint service assets from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina were on board, including Air Force, National Guard, Army, Navy, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel and equipment.
Iron Dagger kicked off on a stormy Monday at Robins. The weather kept the Strike Eagles grounded for the first day, but JSTARS and other assets were able to complete missions. From that point, it was full steam ahead for the remaining four fly-days of the exercise.
A three-pronged approach
As the exercise progressed through the crawl, walk and run stages, robust training scenarios were conducted centering on a three-pronged approach involving close air support, maritime interdiction, and combat search and rescue.
The Southeast region provided a perfect backdrop for the approach as three operational areas provided ample air- and ground-training space to conduct simultaneous mission sets simulating a downrange combat environment.
Flying off the coast of South Carolina, JSTARS - with Air Force, Air National Guard and Army operators aboard - provided data to more than seven types of Air Force, Navy, and Homeland Defense aircraft operating in both maritime and land-based areas.
Missions aboard JSTARS provided a unique opportunity for additional value-added training that is outside the norm, as Customs and Border Protection agents and Navy operators were able to fly missions aboard the aircraft.
"Exercise Iron Dagger has been really good because it's given us an insight into what JSTARS can do to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection," said a USCBP agent, (for security reasons the agent's name could not be released).
"They have a great overview platform that can see a lot of the marine environment," he added. "Where we see a little pizza slice, they can see the whole pie."
The Navy also took advantage of a valuable training opportunity to test the P-8 Poseidon, a modified Boeing 737-800ERX slated to replace the P-3 Orion.
"Incorporating the P-8 into the fight was instrumental in helping us to start building tactics, techniques and procedures to work with this platform in the future," said Digsby.
Close air support
The 117th Air Control Squadron out of Savannah, Ga., provided aerial radar surveillance while JSTARS called in air strikes to Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, and Navy MH-60R Seahawks. In addition, the Navy provided live surface targets for the maritime exercises.
From the ground, Air Force joint terminal attack controllers directed Strike Eagles and Thunderbolt IIs engaged in close air support at two different areas of operation off the Georgia coast.
Search and rescue operations involving Air Force pararescuemen, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130 King aircraft from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., were incorporated on the last day of the exercise performing personnel recovery scenarios at the Moody military operations area range.
"Working with JSTARS to find maritime and land targets was the highlight of the exercise and the reason we came here," said Lt. Col. Nate Hesse, 4th Fighter Wing detachment commander for the deployment.
Brig. Gen. William Welsh, 116th Air Control Wing commander, shared Hesse's sentiments.
"This was an outstanding opportunity for Team JSTARS Airmen to work with F-15Es and other assets," he said. "We rarely get dedicated assets for that long of a period of time to mission plan, brief and debrief together."