JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Reserve Airmen from the 713th Combat Operations Squadron supported Headquarters Pacific Air Forces thousands of miles away for an Air Force Forces exercise, Feb. 3-11. More than 25 Reserve Airmen worked via distributed operations from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. with PACAF’s AFFOR staff at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
“This was about 713th Airmen taking personal pride and initiative to ‘accelerate change’ and overcome adversity,” said Col. Xaviera Slocum, 713th COS commander. “When told just three months prior that our squadron couldn’t travel to Hawaii for the exercise, our Airmen used their innovation skills to turn our Beale AFB facility into a distributed ops node for PACAF and still accomplish our mission.”
Hawaii and PACAF’s COVID-19 safety protocols made travel and on-island participation from the 713th near impossible. The idea of distributed ops came up at the 713th in November, and both planners and leadership worked with PACAF to figure out a way for the Reserve unit to participate in the exercise from Beale.
“We needed to find a way to effectively support ops, follow Beale policies, and keep everyone safe,” said Maj. Jen Old, 713th COS senior intelligence officer. “Our planners worked with public health and other organizations to get us the right facilities and come up with a schedule that met communication checks and exercise training. They did a lot of great coordination and planning.”
For the 713th to effectively participate, it needed to align its communication infrastructure and technology with PACAF’s.
“A big concern for PACAF and the 713th was our communication situation at our Beale facility and whether or not we had the connectivity to plug into processes at Hickam,” said Old. “Many agencies with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and 548th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Beale AFB stepped up to support our squadron in a big way. The 9th Communications and 48th Intelligence squadrons jumped at the opportunity to help bring our networks up and running which increased our communications capabilities to a point where we were confident of our connectivity back to PACAF.”
With communication systems at Beale aligned with PACAF’s, 713th Reserve Airmen were able to integrate and support their active duty counterparts for the exercise, much as they have done for years using on-island participation.
“We learned a lot about reach back support and distributed ops from this exercise,” said Lt. Col. Frank Welton, PACAF Air Ops and Special Capabilities Division deputy chief and Exercise PACAF Battle Staff deputy director. “We were able to smoothly team with the 713th to co-lead battle shifts, key meetings, and briefings via distributed command and control.”
Exercise PACAF Battle Staff Air Ops agreed.
“While there are lessons learned from this exercise when it comes to distributed ops with Beale, we were able to have that reach back and coordination with the 713th,” said Lt. Col. Josh Schecht, PACAF C-17 Standardization/Evaluation Program chief andEexercise PACAF Battle Staff ops planner. “The connectivity was such that we made the 713th the lead for a number of taskers and relied on their continuity of expertise when it comes to the AFFOR.”
Distributed ops from Beale will now be an option for the 713th to provide AFFOR support when it comes to future PACAF exercises.
“Our Reserve Airmen know, to succeed in future competition and conflict, operational agility and operational resiliency will require a distributed C2 capability,” said Slocum. “For the 713th COS, creating the ability to participate via distributive ops is a revolutionary and historic event. PACAF counted on the 713th to create and test this system to allow us to bring our seamless AFFOR expertise and I am incredibly proud of our Airmen for coming through with five-star customer service. I am confident this is just the beginning as we gather our lessons learned and grow our capabilities to support PACAF exercises from home station.”
One of the 713th COS’ missions is to augment PACAF’s AFFOR staff during a crisis or contingency. In order to stay ready when called upon, the unit annually participates in a PACAF AFFOR staff exercise.