Columbus AFB provides aerial support for joint, multi-national exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman Davis Donaldson
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Pilots and student pilots at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, have and will continue to take part in exercise Southern Strike from Feb. 3-13, traveling back and forth to Gulfport, Mississippi.

Southern Strike is hosted by the Mississippi National Guard in multiple states across the southeast. The exercise is conducted to increase deployment readiness and included more than 40 units from the Air Force, Army, Navy and international partners.

Capt. Travis Vayda, 49th Fighter Training Squadron chief of weapons and exercise participant, said it is essential for the student pilots to participate in order for them to gain mission experience.

“I think it’s important for them because it gives them the expectation of what they’re going to go do in six months to a year,” Vayda said. “It also shows them ‘hey this stuff we’re teaching you, we have a reason behind it because soon you’re going to be asked to do all of this.’ It shows them there’s a method to our madness essentially.”

Daniel Szarek, Mississippi National Guard deputy director, helped coordinate the exercise and emphasized its importance when it comes to working together in a joint environment.

“There are a total of four countries participating in Southern Strike 2020,” Szarek said. “More than 2,000 participants from the United States, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan and the Netherlands ensure the maintenance of joint combat readiness, building of international relationships, strengthening of interoperability among the branches of service and helps prepare our partners for possible future contingency missions.”

He said the exercise is conducted at multiple military facilities. Exercise Southern Strike takes place at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Camp McCain Training Center, Naval Air Station Meridian and Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Szarek said.

Szarek also explained the importance of Columbus AFB providing aerial support.

“The involvement of Columbus Air Force Base in Southern Strike 2020 is significant because it provides the use of in-state assets, showing the capabilities that lay within Mississippi,” Szarek said. “It also allows multi-service and multi-platform cross-training through combat scenarios, close-air support and contingency operations while building relationships across the services; active, Reserve and Guard components.”

Vayda said the pilots from Columbus AFB have been providing “aerial support” during the exercise, supporting grounded joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs).

Two T-38 Talons from the 49th FTS have been flying to Gulfport while communicating with the JTACs. Once they arrive at Gulfport, they refuel and fly back to Columbus daily, Vayda said. He also said the aircrew have consisted of two Airmen per jet, including an experienced pilot who has manned the front of the jet, while a student pilot observes in the back.

Vayda said the exercise is important for the non-student pilots as well. He said the training aspect of the Air Force is great, but it has a different aura compared to the operational side.

“All of us are fighter pilots, it’s important that we go down there so we can maintain currency and talk with guys who are still in the combat Air Force,” Vayda said. “We like to make sure that our skills don’t get rusty and we stay up to date with the current tactics.”