TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Representatives from the 60th Air Mobility Wing stationed at Travis Air Force Base, California, participated in exercise Rainier War, held within an area of 270,000 square miles along the West Coast of the United States, April 26 – 30.
The exercise involved members from multiple Air Force bases and U.S. Army personnel testing their ability to plan, generate and execute a deployment tasking; sustain contingency operations; demonstrate full-spectrum readiness and execute Agile Combat Employment in a contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment.
“We played a role for the support units to come down and utilize our mission-planning cells at the 21st Airlift Squadron to plan their operations in the Pacific Northwest hub of the exercise,” said Capt. Charles Cummings, 21st AS C-17 Globemaster III evaluator pilot. “From Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to Moses Lake, Washington, and into Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington—that was the environment that we were playing in.”
To mimic mission needs within a deployed environment, the 21st AS flew to multiple bases during each day of the exercise, transporting both personnel from the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron and well as U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System equipment.
At each location, exercise injects were provided, further simulating what it would be like operating within those degraded environments, Cummings said.
“Our teams would need to fly through mock assault landing zones to really home in on that ACE concept as much as possible,” he said. “From those types of scenario, we also worked with the U.S. Army to employ some of their assets to areas they were needed in the exercise.”
Maj. Samuel Weir, 21st AS C-17 weapons officer and evaluator, expanded upon the importance of working together not only within the framework of Rainier War, but within the framework of the larger training infrastructure of the Air Force.
"All of these exercises are a significant task to pull off, demanding a large commitment of time and effort from Airmen," he said. "By integrating our wing with McChord's, for example, we were able to take a small part of the load from McChord and both gain valuable training from this opportunity. McChord’s goal was to conduct their wing’s mission from an outbase, and Travis had the capability to provide that."
The need to advance the U.S. Air Force’s capacity to wage war and work with other services to expand upon that capacity is of particular import to the commander of Air Mobility Command Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, who in an Oct. 27 address said, “Our new priorities are to develop the force and advance warfighting capabilities to maximize full-spectrum readiness and generate the credible capacity required to project the Joint Force and ensure strategic deterrence.”
For Cummings, the exercise not only served as good practice for a real-world scenario, but also further honed his squadron’s own capability to respond to one, laying bare room for improvement.
“I think the exercise did a good job of highlighting certain deficiencies in our operation,” he said. “We like to operate in an uncontested environment—one in which we get to choose the parameters—but I think it’s important for us to recognize that we might not always have that privilege. We need to test ourselves and our capabilities in an environment where we don’t have all the communications that we’re used to or that we need to make perfect, tactical decisions.”
It’s about getting everyone on the same page and seeing what we’re good at and what we need to work on, he added.
Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein famously said, “Air superiority isn’t an American birthright. It’s something you have to fight for and maintain”—an idea echoed by Cummings, and on a broader scale, all those who participated in Rainier War.
“We attempt to understand as much as we can on what a future war would look like and what we need to train for,” Cummings said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we meet the demands of the future.”
As Travis AFB ramps up for an in-house exercise of their own, it's Weir's hope that Rainier War's "iron sharpens iron" configuration can be used to bolster the base's own training to even greater effect.
"As we prepare for our wing exercise in the fall, we can use the lessons learned from this exercise to refine objectives and identify planning constraints," he said. "For the 21st AS, it provided some valuable loadmaster training and an opportunity for joint integration."