McConnell’s EXPLODEO; Rapid Deployment, Tactical Excellence

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gavin Hameed
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Team McConnell conducted a dynamic hub and spoke joint force refueling tactical exercise, EXPLODEO, deploying two KC-135 Stratotankers and four KC-46 Pegasus aircraft to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 26 – Feb. 28.

Operating out of JBLM as a hub, McConnell supported multiple spokes such as Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Travis Air Force Base, California as well as integrating with aircraft from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.

McConnell's EXPLODEO exercise emphasizes operational readiness, adaptability, and Agile Combat Employment through rapid deployment and employment exercises.

"We're keen on practicing ACE maneuvers,” said Master Sgt. James Jaromack, 22nd Air Refueling Wing ACE senior enlisted leader. “We want to identify any potential gaps in training and tactics, and figuring out how we can best employ the base concept.”

After taking off from McConnell, the aircrews received exercise injects en-route which simulated re-taskings from a combatant commander in an ever-changing operational environment, requiring dynamic decisions by the deploying commanders to demonstrate the agility and adaptability needed to meet the latest mission needs and ensure mission effectiveness.

During this time, one of the KC-135 aircrews from the 350th Air Refueling Squadron, landed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, where members from the 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oils, and lubricants team executed a wet-wing defuel operation alongside their 319th LRS counterparts at Grand Forks.

"Wet-wing defueling turns our tankers into a gas station on the ground,” said Tech Sgt Cody Post, 22nd LRS non-commissioned officer in charge of fuels distribution. “It helps tankers land and offload fuel when needed, it's a commonplace operation for us at McConnell, but for the Grand Forks team, it's brand new to them so it was a good training opportunity for them.”

Additionally, the crews engaged in Traffic pattern work coordinating with air traffic control, cargo loading activities and a tour with the on-base fire department to enhance their understanding of egress operations for the Stratotanker.

"It's actually pretty amazing to practice a lot of tactics we don't normally get to practice at home,” said 1st Lt. Drake Emlong, 350th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “Just doing a lot of non-standard maneuvers that I know we'll probably be employing in the future. It's good to actually employ these."

Simultaneously, the KC-46 aircrews traveled to Travis Air Force Base, California, to conduct pattern work on unfamiliar runways and then flew on to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where a team established a mission planning center which served as the main simulated remote destination and forward operating base for the duration of the exercise.

"Getting out of home station in a rapid fashion is a challenge in and of itself,” said Lt. Col. Kristen Smith, EXPLODEO lead planner. “There's an exercise admin portion outside of the scenario that's tough as we try to coordinate everything and communicate with all the different participating units.”

Over the three-day duration of the exercise, the 22nd and 931st ARW completed at total 107 flight hours and 27 sorties as crews refueled three C-17 Globemaster III’s, eight EA-18G Growler, and 29 F-35 Lightning II fighters.

At JBLM, the leadership package established a Mobile Command Post to coordinate new Tactic, Techniques, and Procedures.

While aircrews were fueling the fight, Airmen from around the 22nd Maintenance Group worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure each aircraft remained mission-capable and fully operational.

“A lot of Airmen are here on their very first temporary duty travel, gaining exposure to the flying aspect of our job and allowing them to train in a different environment from home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Matthews, 22 AMXS KC-46 hydraulics craftsmen. “Many of them are learning and experiencing other career fields and that contributes to the effectiveness of training Multi-Capable Airmen."

Upon returning to JBLM after a multitude of aerial refueling operations, aircrews and maintenance prepped each aircraft to alert status for immediate takeoff on the final day of the exercise.

"We’re really focusing on the key components of ACE, specifically specialized fueling operations,” Jaromack said. “We want to get not only our crews but all different sites trained up to minimize our ground time because the safest place for any aircraft is in the air and specialized fueling operations help us do that."

All participants of EXPLODEO returned on Feb. 28, 2024.

“We've identified some gaps, and that was the goal of the exercise,” Smith said. “Not just the operations group, it's all the Wing agencies as we got out of home station, and then here operationally. We've tested some TTPs that we're going to look into further, which will only make us a better force."