Story by Sgt. Brad Mincey, 108th Public Affairs Detachment, S.C. Army National Guard.
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. – The skies over McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, South Carolina, were abuzz with rotors and jet engines Nov. 14-16, as service members from the Army and Air National Guard trained together during Carolina Thunder ‘14.
The three-day exercise was an opportunity for National Guard units from four states to train together in a realistic scenario at McEntire and the Savannah River Site (SRS) for multi-component collective training.
“Carolina Thunder is about who we are and what we do on drill weekend,” said Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., the Adjutant General for S.C. “This exercise was planned a year and half ago after units came home from Iraq and wanted to get back into large maneuver training.”
The first day of drill had participants finalizing the planning through Combined Arms Rehearsal, held at the Army’s flight facility hangar, where all units involved went through the schedule of events and planned out the next day’s training.
“The rehearsal was to ensure that everyone had an understanding of what their mission was and work through any problems or hazards that may arise,” said Capt. Matt Summey, Assistant S-3, 59th Aviation Troop Command.
Day two began early, as four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the South Carolina Air National Guard took off into the cold November sky. The jets, piloted by aviators from the 169th Fighter Wing, and supported by an E-8C JSTAR (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) from the Georgia National Guard and a KC-135 Refueler from the Tennessee National Guard, played an integral part in the first stages of the exercise.
“Our mission was the destruction of enemy air defenses,” said Maj. Ryan Corrigan, Air Operations Planner, 169th Fighter Wing. “We then provided close air support to troops on the ground and non-traditional ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance).”
After takeoff, the F-16s were closely followed in chalks by nearly 30 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters from the 1st Battalion, 151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, from South Carolina Army National Guard and 1st Battalion, 130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, from the North Carolina Army National Guard. These aircraft worked in unison to conduct suppression of enemy anti-aircraft defense systems and interdiction attacks once they arrived at SRS.
In the final stages of the exercise, four CH-47 Chinooks from the 2nd Battalion, 151st Security and Support Aviation Battalion carried 120 Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry, 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade to secure the area.
“It’s important to integrate and work together because we can’t accomplish the mission otherwise,” said Corrigan. “Air can’t do it by itself. The Army can’t do it by itself. We work together to become an effective fighting force and achieve the commander’s objective.”
McEntire covers about 2,400 acres in Richland county and is an excellent locale for this type of exercise. With an airfield capable of handling aircraft up to a C-17 Globemaster and lots of open terrain, and several Army and Air National Guard units already stationed there, it offers plenty of opportunities for excellent training.
“This exercise is huge,” said Corrigan. “This is something we do this all the time. And because of that, we easily integrate into the Army units. The fact that we can do this at McEntire is amazing!”