The 153rd Airlift Wing demonstrated their ability to seamlessly transition from peacetime readiness to contingency operations during the Mustang Roller Readiness Exercise at the Wyoming Air National Guard Base, Cheyenne, Wyo., May 1-7, 2023. This rigorous exercise tested the unit’s capability to maintain and sustain essential home-station missions as well as testing the process of deploying aircraft and Airmen during degraded conditions.
The 153rd Airlift Wing has adopted a new approach to training that emphasizes real-world scenarios to better prepare Airmen for combat readiness.
Earlier this year, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, discussed this approach being necessary since Airmen and Soldiers are the backbone of the nation’s defense strategy. The Mustang Roller exercise is integral to this strategy, equipping Guardsmen with the necessary skills to face present and future threats.
It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill exercise. Airmen at the 153rd Airlift Wing were not donning gas masks and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear defense gear. Instead, they kicked things up a notch, simulating a range of intense scenarios, including downed drones, riots, and network outages, putting their skills to work. Multi-capable Airmen rose to the challenge, proving that they were ready to move from peacetime to contingency operations at a moment’s notice. Approximately 80 members from the wing were tasked with deploying to the 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno, Nev., to continue the exercise showcasing their skills and dedication to keeping our nation safe.
“The big factor is that this could potentially happen in real life,” says Tech. Sgt. Philip Roybal, Logistics Planner for the 243rd Air Traffic Control Squadron, who participated as a Cargo Deployment Function Wing Inspection Team member during the exercise.
“We all hear about the state of the world in the news, and we’re preparing to take on any threat that comes our way. This exercise helps solidify our readiness further. We’re used to preparing for conflict elsewhere, but when it comes to our front door, it’s a little bit different. So we’re seeing people think on their toes, making decisions at the lowest level to channel up.”
As the day progressed, the scenarios evolved, testing the Airmen’s ability to navigate through various levels of security protocols and measures used by military personnel and first responders during missions or in response to a threat, including situations involving loss of resources such as power or internet capabilities.
Not only were Airmen being evaluated, but the 153rd Wing Inspection Team was also under inspection by the Air Mobility Command Inspector General’s team.
“We’re here to watch the watchers and inspect the Wing Inspection Team to ensure they’re capable of inspecting the wing during the exercise,” says Master Sgt. Ryan DeLaughter of the AMC IG team.
Although this was DeLaughter’s first time inspecting a guard base, it’s worth noting that today’s National Guard units have similar readiness requirements as their active-duty counterparts.
DeLaughter started his day by sitting through the Wing Commander’s briefing, where Col. Barry Deibert, 153rd Airlift Wing commander, asked the room, “Why do we do these exercises?” Many members answered differently, but Deibert emphasized that “this exercise is ultimately preparing us for war.” DeLaughter continued, “We are in the profession of arms, and it is our job to be prepared when the flag goes up. We must be ready and ensure that everyone knows what they are doing when it is time to go to war.”
During the exercise, Airmen faced several challenges, such as preparing the C-130 Hercules aircraft for military passengers and equipment.
Staff Sergeant Chelsea Schneider was one of those Airmen. She typically works in Air Transportation for the Logistics Readiness Squadron, but she was part of the Joint Inspection Team during the exercise.
“I’m specifically a hazardous cargo inspector. I am looking through all of our regulations to make sure everything’s good. All the paperwork is good to go, and then make sure everything is properly marked,” said Schneider.
Schneider’s role in the exercise was crucial as she ensured the safe transportation of various hazardous cargo.
“There are different types of hazardous cargo, and some are compatible with each other while others are not. So we inspect and verify if the cargo can be shipped with other types of cargo on the same aircraft. For instance, we inspect generators to see if they’ve been properly drained of fuel before shipping them because they are classified as independent pieces of cargo,” Schneider explains. Along with her team, they ensured everyone was transported safely.
As the exercise progressed, it became clear that the development of the Mustang Roller exercise involved a significant amount of planning.
Senior Master Sergeant Jennifer Yack played a significant role as part of the 153rd Airlift Wing’s Office of the Inspector General. Her task during the exercise was to ensure the proper execution of actions and control of the entire exercise, which continued as Airmen deployed to Reno.
Yack explained that Mustang Roller was designed to draw inspiration from real-world events, and they used the guidance provided by Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command. Gen. Minihan emphasized the importance of preparing for potential near-peer threats, which was a significant factor in the creation of this exercise.
“We wanted to bring that to the home station because it’s where the threat will hit us first. So much of the exercise focused on the cyber impacts you would see. It also hit on preparing to execute if we go to a war tomorrow.” Yack continued, “Colonel Deibert said at the beginning of this exercise. This is why the 153rd exercises, to be war-ready at all times.”
The IG team achieved its goal of preparing for potential threats and continued to do so while Airmen were in Reno, showcasing what it looks like in a real scenario, working alongside another unit. “The 153rd doesn’t go alone during a deployment but rather with other units,” said Yack.
“This exercise was a chance to practice deploying as if it were real. The unit is able to merge with the 152nd and establish itself at an expeditionary airbase, getting a better idea of what their flying missions will look like. Pilots will fly through different sorties together either with two or four aircraft. Where they could encounter challenges like simulated surface-to-air missiles or better known as Smokey SAMs.”
Midway through the exercise, Yack had already observed positive progress, like the service member’s willingness to think outside the box and embrace future challenges.
“For example, on the pre-deployment function line, Airmen had to figure out how to meet the line’s intent when they did not have access to the regular equipment to process people through the Personnel Deployment Function line,” said Yack.
She highlighted other significant positives in the exercise, particularly many units’ hard work and dedication. “There was a lot of hustle. And I saw that recommendations made by the Inspector General’s office in the past were being implemented, which led to improvements in various processes.” This positive outcome brought happiness and positivity to the IG world, which can often be perceived as negative.
“The exercise showcased a lot of out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to move away from the traditional attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” said Yack.
“Airmen followed Col. Deibert’s intent, indicating they were ready to embrace the future and not be confined to the past. Therefore, it is crucial to continue in this direction, leveraging the expertise of the wing’s talented individuals to push the envelope and keep moving towards better preparedness for the future.”