US Air Force, June 05, 2016 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, FL by Tech Sgt William Buchanan - Just two months after becoming the first FANG Airmen to graduate from the Army’s Air Assault Course, five 290 JCSS members incorporated their new skill set into their training exercise at Fleming Key, Florida.
The mission allowed the 290 JCSS to demonstrate the capability to forward deploy tactical communications Airmen and their equipment by helicopter to an otherwise unreachable destination.
“This capability is a force multiplier for the Florida National Guard and the State of Florida because these skills could be used not only in their overseas mission tasks, but also responding to domestic emergencies within our state helping Florida's citizens,” said Brig. Gen. James Eifert, Florida Air National Guard commander. “The Airmen at the 290th have always been high speed, and the fact they are the first Air unit to lead this effort comes as no surprise.”
The scenario positioned the 290 JCSS on Fleming Key prior to a Category 4 hurricane making landfall with the Florida Keys. After landfall, Key West and surrounding keys lost all forms of communications. The sling load (VERTREP) mission required four Airmen and their equipment transported to a desolate Navy-owned key used as a command and control site for aerial resupply operations. The communicators landed, unpacked their equipment and established internet, phone and radio capabilities within an hour of takeoff.
Increasing the unique training environment of this exercise, Naval Air Station Key West Search and Rescue provided the aviation support and Soldiers from Joint Communications Support Element provided drop zone support.
"Nobody can recall a time when we have performed a VERTREP mission here in Key West; so the training opportunity was very valuable to our team" said Lt. Struzinski, NAS Key West Fleet Liaison Officer/SAR Pilot. "The chance to train with some of Florida's Airmen truly builds upon the Total Force mindset, and the VERTREP we conducted, although not a regular mission-set for the NAS Key West SAR unit, is one of the primary missions that our pilots and aircrew are always ready to perform."
The mission culminated ‘Operation Reconnect’, a 12 day exercise planned and hosted by the 290 JCSS, which consisted of more than 125 personnel; 12 organizations from all services: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard; and all components: Active Duty, Guard and Reserve.
Due to the success of the Air Assault training and the unique skill sets Airmen brought to the mission, leadership has decided to continue offering the Air Assault course to both Army and Air Guardsmen.
“Joint is how we fight, therefore joint is how we train,” said Lt. Col. Giles, 290 JCSS Commander. “These Airmen seamlessly worked side by side with all services from all components and knocked the mission out of the park—Minutemen, All In!”