Story by Capt. Jamie Delk, S.C. National Guard Public Affairs
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago, S.C. National Guard Public Affairs
EASTOVER, S.C. – As the sun went down and the night sky set in, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers” gave mission briefs to Soldiers and Airmen of the South Carolina National Guard, an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) from 7th Special Forces Group, United States Air Force 22nd Special Tactics Squadron (STS), and Columbia Police Department Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), as every member of this team prepped for the start of Objective Indigo, May 19th.
This joint multi-operational exercise is a three-day simulated operation intended to fully mission qualify crews from 160th SOAR(A) in full-spectrum special operations missions, while simultaneously providing unique tactical training to other units involved.
“We wanted to put an event together with all of our primary customers and we wanted to do it in a low cost fashion with adjacent military units,” said Maj. Tyler Partridge, commander, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 160th SOAR(A).
To support the training scenario of Objective Indigo, the flight crews from 160th SOAR(A) are given notice that they are supporting a summit meeting to be held in downtown Columbia, S.C., during which terrorist groups will seize hostages. Because of the unique qualifications of the aircrews, all operations during the three days were conducted under cover of darkness, using night optical devices.
“To work with the 160th and their precision in the way that they plan and the way they execute the mission will only benefit us,” said Lt. Col. Edward Cloyd, commander of 4-118th Infantry Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard. “My Soldiers will go back and spread that professionalism throughout our battalion.”
“This training is a long term partnership with the ODA,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Dine, squad leader with 4-118th Infantry Battalion. “We’ve had high quality training that we’ll take back to our companies so we can better prepare ourselves for upcoming missions.”
Day one consisted of fast rope and air assault insertion of ground forces including Special Forces and elements of the 4-118th Infantry Battalion into downtown Columbia, in the area known as the “state park.” Raids were conducted against suspected terrorists in several different buildings simultaneously.
Insertion of a Special Forces reconnaissance team along with members of the 4-118th Infantry Battalion, conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance collection took place on day two. Ground assault forces were again inserted by air into the site to strike at another terrorist cell.
The final day involved an “isolated persons” exercise for special operations members where they practiced their survival, evasion, resistance, and escape techniques while avoiding both ground forces patrols, and being tracked by Special Forces reconnaissance, sniper teams and air assets.
“These guys are the best in the business. Whenever you’re training with guys as good as they are, your game gets better,” said Cloyd.
Over the course of the exercise, the South Carolina National Guard flew Black Hawk, Lakota, and Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, alongside 160th SOAR(A) air assets, providing opportunities to train and test the Soldiers and Airmen and their equipment.
“Being able to see how the ground forces operate, how proficient they are, it’s a different perspective than we see in the air,” said Capt. Josh Kitchen, scheduler with the 157th Fighter Squadron.
“What’s unique about this training is that it’s taking place at McEntire so we have all these aviation assets. But to actually bring in the ground forces is rare, a lot of times we have to simulate that they’re there,” said Maj. Steven Kaminsky, F-16 fighter pilot with the 169th Fighter Wing, S.C. Air National Guard. “To have the assets and actually see the forces on the ground is extremely valuable training.”
“Being able to execute cross talk, being able to work real time-over target operations, working coordinated attacks with the Apaches are things that we don’t normally get to do,” added Kaminsky.
“Joint operations, working with more than just our internal folks is a big eye opener,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Melogy, Alpha Company pilot in command, 2-151st Aviation, S.C. Army National Guard. “We’ve been learning how to work with everyone, and getting all the terminology down that we’re not familiar with.”
For each unit involved to get the most of the unique training opportunity, the exercise was filled with flight engineer evaluations, low level flying during hours of limited visibility, inserting ground forces by air, and infantry mission essential tasks, all while coordinating between services, components and units in a joint environment.
“From a training standpoint it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s as intense and as professional as it can get,” said Capt. Jeff Hodish, commader, Alpha Company, 2-149th Aviation, S.C. Army National Guard. “Being able to train with the 160th and keep up with them, we’re able to incorporate some of that into our training. It allows us to become more proficient.”
“It’s good for my guys to be able to come up here and train these guys. The more we do it, the better we get at doing it,” said Master Sgt. Wiley MacCormick, a Special Forces operations team sergeant. “These guys are some of the most motivated Soldiers I’ve ever worked with. It was great to be able to transfer our knowledge to these guys because they came to every task enthusiastically.”
“My direct interaction with the National Guard has been very limited and primarily overseas,” said Partridge. “The facilities here blew me out of the water. This is a phenomenal opportunity. It’s important for my guys to gain perspective that our national yields a mighty instrument here in the National Guard.”