By 2nd Lt David Korzen
50th Airlift Squadron
More than 80 Airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base participated in the April Joint Forcible Entry Exercise at Pope Air Force Base, N.C.
The Airmen and three Little Rock aircraft participated in the exercise, with the 463rd Airlift Group leading the way in planning the exercise, typically held quarterly in conjunction with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“JFEX is an important event because it gives aircrews an opportunity to exercise mass airborne assault capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Anderson, 50th Airlift Squadron commander. Colonel Anderson was the overall mission commander for the Little Rock contingent. He said “JFEX is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the capability to insert a brigade using airpower.” For many young aircrew members, exercises such as these prove to be their first opportunity to drop paratroopers and cargo.
According to JFEX officials, the C-130s in the exercise alone dropped more than 1,150 people.
For 1st Lt. Marci Freund, 50th AS co-pilot, JFEX was a real eye-opener. Having graduated the C-130 FTU in January, this was her first chance to see the aircraft used for real tactical airlift and to gain experience with real paratroopers. In addition to the airdrop, she had the opportunity to conduct assault work, delivering an Army rocket artillery platform into a dirt landing zone.
“Even after one successful mission, your confidence level goes up,” she said. “Young aircrews get to see their impact on the Army’s mission and the need to get the stuff there when they need it.”
Behind the scenes, other Airmen were driving the exercise forward. Maintenance, life support, intelligence, and other support personnel were deployed with the aircrew to get the job done. Staff Sgt Robert Crow, an aircraft maintainer from the 463rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said he worked long hours to keep the tails flying.
His mission, although away from home, remained the same.
“For us, it’s business as usual, just in a different place,” he said. “We bed down the aircraft and fix the problems.” Aside from flying, aircrew were also completing ground duties. One such Airman was 1st Lt. Erik Swenson, a co-pilot with the 61st Aircraft Squadron.
He worked as part of a mission planning cell, creating low level routes, analyzing terrain and coordinating with local agencies for the necessary flight authorizations.
Although disappointed that he wasn’t able to fly, Lt. Swenson said he realized the importance of his job and the learning opportunity it presented.
“It gives me a better understanding of the big picture,” he said. “We don’t just fly planes, we need knowledge of other jobs.”
For the Air Force and the Army, the exercise was a huge success, according to Lt. Col. Anderson. He said it was smaller than in years past, due to wartime commitments, but he still considered it an impressive effort.
When all was said and done, those involved in the exercise said that over 1,500 personnel, six C-17s and eight C-130s from Dyess AFB, Texas, Pope AFB, S.C., Charleston AFB, S.C., McChord AFB, Wash., Little Rock AFB and Travis AFB, Calif joined with members of the Pittsburgh Air National Guard to deliver 100 tons of cargo.
This, plus the 1,741 paratroopers that were interested, resulted in a success rate of more than 99 percent — a number officials say is nearly unheard of.