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Ex Chem Fury: Energizing 317th AW Tactical Leaders for the Great Power Competition

  • Published
  • By Courtesy of 317th Airlift Wing
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

For the first time since 2012, more than 70% of the nearly 1200 Airmen assigned to the 317th Airlift Wing participated in a large-scale Ability To Survive and Operate (ATSO) exercise hosted on their own installation.  It was the initial step of the wing’s strategic plan to develop today’s Mobility Airmen into the leaders needed to compete, deter, and win in an era of renewed ‘great power competition.’ 

Between Nov. 17-19, 2020, the wing’s Inspector General Exercise Director, Major Matthew Gabso, and his cadre of 64 Wing Inspection Team (WIT) members evaluated the entire 317th Airlift Wing’s readiness to generate, employ, and sustain combat airlift in a chemically-contested environment.  

This three-day exercise was different than most: during an uninterrupted 72-hour period, it kept a “mission-oriented” focus, evaluating the wing’s every step from aircraft generation to the execution of combat airlift and airdrop despite a persistent, near-peer threat and constant attacks.  The WIT did not merely evaluate an Airman’s ability to don their mission-oriented protective posture, or MOP, gear and survive in a contested environment, it measured the wing’s ability operate under extreme duress. 

“We are tasked to either airdrop supplies or pick-up people,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Shroyer, 40th Airlift Squadron Commander. “What makes this unique and different is that there is a chemical threat…That's what makes us a little bit tougher, a little bit grittier, and a little more seasoned.”

The exercise also provided an environment in which Airmen could step up, lead, and innovate through adversity.  The majority of the wing had never participated in anything like it - leaders at every level stepped up to inspire their Airmen, explain the “why” behind the thrash, and, ultimately, drive mission execution while physically drained by the MOPP and aircrew eye and respiratory protection system, or AERPS, gear.

Master Sgt. Jason McGinnis, a lead production superintendent in the 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, explained the “why” to his Airmen while orchestrating flight line maintenance: “there’s definitely limiting factors that happen when you put on all your MOPP gear; it challenges the duties that you have in day-to-day operations.”  He related that something as simple as safety wiring suddenly becomes much more difficult when wearing the protective gloves.  “That is exactly why we exercise.”  To experience the challenge, build grit, and develop the mindset that tomorrow’s war looks nothing like what we are used to.

The 317th Airlift Wing Commander, Col James Young, also leveraged the exercise as an opportunity to formulate a Command and Control (C2) framework for the wing for future operations.  As a tenant wing, its C2 structure is not inherently designed to drive the mission in a contested environment.  In fact, the exercise team relied heavily on 7th Bomb Wing units such as the 7th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 7th Civil Engineer Squadron, and 7th Force Support Squadron to project realism for the players.  As such, Col Young deliberately prioritized C2 development, offering insight to his leadership team on what an installation C2 has historically looked like, while encouraging innovation on what decentralized C2 could look like for his C-130J wing. 

His innovative approach to C2 and the lessons learned from the past week will form the foundation for future events in the 317th Airlift Wing’s battle-rhythm.  Exercise Chemical Fury was a success, but the wing’s exercise program will not end there.  Chemical Fury was simply the initial step in the 317th Airlift Wing’s strategic plan to accelerate change, develop our Airmen, and do our part to build credible capacity, enhance deterrence, and compete globally against emerging threats and rising powers.