McConnell Airmen refine skills during Lethal Defender

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class William Lunn
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Security Forces personnel “Defenders” assigned to McConnell AFB engaged in Lethal Defender, a week-long combat exercise near Salina, Kansas.

This was the first Lethal Defender exercise McConnell Airmen participated in. While Defenders across the globe have conducted similar training in the past, Lethal Defender highlighted the shift in the Security Forces mindset towards honing Ground Combat and Air Base Ground Defense skills.

The operation conducted Nov. 27 through Dec. 2, at the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range, kept Defenders ready for a wide range of deployed scenarios. The exercise included establishing forward operating bases (FOB), conducting land navigation, and operating in limited visibility environments. They also had a full day of range operations where they fired over 18,000 rounds in static and dynamic firing drills, including full distance firing during day and night-time operations. The program was described by Maj. Jeremiah Baxter, 22 SFS commander, as essential for Base Defense skills. The primary goal of the exercise was to hone Defender skills and proficiency in Air Base Ground Defense as they focused on the high-end fight.

Each day began with Squad Leaders conducting Mission Planning. They were advised of daily objectives and other critical information that included the location of reinforcements, hostile forces in the area, and established protocols to react to unforeseen circumstances. Defender leaders learned the need for the mission command construct and gained an understanding of how to operate in austere environments with degraded command and control.

Airmen exercised the Agile Combat Employment scheme of maneuver by establishing a FOB that allowed them to conduct various missions of securing landing sites, airfield assessments, and presence patrols. Defenders packed their gear and rucked to their temporary camp to establish a perimeter around an area. They remained vigilant for potential adversaries and suspicious activity in their AOR.

“A great element to this exercise was putting my leadership skills to the test,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy Martin, 22 SFS Fire Team Leader. “Making sure my Airmen were in the best formation-making sure they knew where their field of fire was supposed to be-and overall, just helping everybody out with each detail.”

The exercise saw multiple squads conducting various activities. During the day, a few Airmen left the FOB to conduct several missions they may encounter in a contingency environment. While operating, they maintained their combat formation for miles on foot, under heavy gear. They encountered enemy ambushes in simulated attacks that forced them to shoot, move and communicate in a simulated combat environment. Communication amongst Defenders is key in these scenarios and the team innovated by using various flares, smoke, and marking devices to maintain communications within the base security zone.

“We had a lot of moving parts in this exercise as well as people from all different sections,” said Capt. Evan Loosen, 22nd SFS operations officer. “Coordinating efforts while maintaining security of an expeditionary air base and imparting some of our skills was a huge push.”

A number of external factors tested the Defender’s grit and resiliency throughout Lethal Defender to include freezing temperatures and rugged terrain. Each day they completed rucks that lasted several miles and surviving solely off what they carried on their backs.

Preparation for night operations began with Airmen turning on their night observation devices, commonly referred to as night vision goggles. In one case, Airmen simulated a firefight while being ambushed roadside. In another, they battled enemy forces that attempted to penetrate their base perimeter.

“The final day we were expected to put everything together we learned throughout the week,” said Senior Airman Thomas Barham, 22nd SFS Fire Team Member. “We were forced to act quickly as the attacks and events were more rapid fire, our training would be put to the test.”

As the light began to wane on a long day of combat operations Defenders prepared for their final test, a complex coordinated nighttime attack by enemy forces. As they looked beyond their base at the night, they maintained their defensive sectors for hours in the freezing temps never wavering from their posts. The silence of the night was abruptly halted by incoming fire calls across the base and small arms attacks at the base perimeter, the fight was on. Hostile forces threw everything they had at the tired Defenders, but they never faltered and relied on their training to repel the attack.

“The amount of growth, grit and determination I saw during this last week was inspiring,” Baxter said. “During the weapons firing, I saw a lot of confidence built that day. Every time we come out here, I think we can expect more combat efficiency than the last.”

Lethal Defender will now occur twice a year. Every new field exercise will see new missions and objectives to align with current events and contingency operations around the globe.