317 AW strengthens ties with regional partner, hones new capability

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Clayton Wear
  • Special Operations Command South

Two C-130J Super Hercules from the 317th Airlift Wing, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, supported Special Operations Command South and the Chilean Army during exercise Southern Star 23, from July 24 through Aug. 10, 2023.

Exercise Southern Star 23 is a Chilean-led full-scale Special Operations, Joint and Combined Employment Exercise including training on tactical maneuvers, collaboration and decision-making during crisis scenarios.

Members from the 39th Airlift Squadron were able to transport a Chilean Army Humvee in an Air Mobility Command C-130J for the first time, set up a mobile Tactical Operation Center, and lead a Forward Area Refueling Point.  

“Exercise Southern Star allowed us a unique opportunity to work with the Chilean Air Force,” said Capt. Chris Galemore, 39th AS pilot. “We've been able to share tactics, techniques and procedures that will enable both forces to work together. We have had the pleasure of having the Chileans fly with us on most of our flights so we can share stories and build a lasting camaraderie.”

As one of the leads flying the C-130J carrying the Humvees, Capt. Tyler Jones, 317th Operation Support Squadron mission commander, addressed several of the challenges that come with working with joint forces.

“At the execution level, there were quite a few hurdles to pass to get this mission completed,” said Jones. “The biggest issue is working jointly with a foreign nation to execute an airlift that includes hazardous vehicles. Luckily, we had support from our partners to get the cargo prepared and ready to go.”

While visiting lead planners in Rancagua, Chile, Col. Thomas Lankford, 317th AW commander, described the benefits the wing gained, including the opportunity to develop a tailored multi-capable force package while simultaneously building partnerships with U.S. and Chilean joint forces.

“This exercise taught them to look at a lot of different problem-sets that they normally don't think about,” said Lankford. “This allowed us to create a purpose-built maintenance package in order to show up in a joint expeditionary environment.”

Lankford highlighted a program created at Dyess, called Lethal Expeditionary Airman Development, which develops multi-capable maintainers who are able to deploy with more specialty skills training. Airmen from the 317th AW utilized the LEAD training throughout the Southern Star Exercise to better their mission capabilities to support joint partnerships.

“The LEAD program is where we take maintainers and split them into two career tracks in order for them to learn each other's specialties,” said Lankford. “Additionally, we send many of them to small unit tactics training and some other secondary weapons training. When they leave LEAD, they are able to go out and rapidly deploy to a combat environment or support exercises like Southern Star and repair any aircraft with combat damage.”

Exercises like Southern Star provide unparalleled training opportunities for aircrew, forcing them to adapt to the challenges of employing new capabilities in unfamiliar environments while also focusing on enhancing interoperability with a key regional partner.

“If we can improve our partner capacity through this, that's a huge win for everybody,” said Lankford. “I really look forward to having a valuable partner in this region and working with them in the future to build each other's capabilities.”