Air Guard Units provide critical communications link for Northern Strike 2016

Airman 1st Class Steven Miller, a radio frequency transmissions systems journeyman with the 264th Combat Communications Squadron, works on a communications radar during Exercise Northern Strike at the Combat Readiness Training Center in Alpena, Mich., on Aug. 9, 2016. Northern Strike 16 is bringing together 5,000 military personnel for joint combat training centered on Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in northern Michigan. Northern Strike 16 is a National Guard Bureau-sponsored exercise uniting approximately 5,000 Army, Air Force, Marine, and Special Forces service members from 20 states and three coalition countries during the first three weeks of August 2016 at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, both located in northern Michigan. The exercise strives to provide accessible, readiness-building opportunities for military units from all service branches to achieve and sustain proficiency in conducting mission command, air, sea, and ground maneuver integration, and the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action environment. (Michigan National Guard photo by Senior Airman Ryan Zeski/Released)

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Story written by Spc. Alan Prince, 126th Press Camp.

ALPENA, Mich.– Squadrons of Airmen from Illinois and Utah are providing the communications backbone for exercise Northern Strike 2016.

The 264th Combat Communications Squadron from Peoria, Illinois, is providing the communications hardware and infrastructure support from the exercise, operating from three locations at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center in northern Michigan.

The 109th Air Control Squadron, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, are utilizing that hardware and infrastructure to provide the direct air-to-ground communications needed to allow air and ground assets to coordinate and put bullets, bombs and other weapons precisely on target.

“It is really an integration of a number of units, across service branches, working together to manage the battle space,” explained Maj. Leon McGuire, commanding the roughly 135 members of the 109th participating in the exercise.

The 264th, which has about 50 Airmen participating in the exercise, utilized its deployed equipment to provide both secure and non-secure voice and data link communications to the 109th and other exercise participants. In essence, they created the pipe through which units who are spread throughout the exercise can communicate, explained Maj.

John Parise, officer in charge of one of the three operating locations occupied by the 264th.

“Once we get initial capability, it is all about trouble-shooting and working through any issues to ensure that all the units can communicate clearly,” said Staff Sgt. Patricia Sparks of the 264th, who is serving as the site engineer for one of the operating locations. “We are listening to the customer, in this case, the 109th and hearing what they need to get their job done.”

Utilizing the capability provided by the 264th, Airmen with the 109th work with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground to ensure that the correct aircraft, with the correct weapons load, is available at the right location at the right time to support friendly ground forces and put bombs on target.

“Our Airmen are identifying and tracking threats, coordinating air refueling support and, particularly in this scenario, aiding in the air-to-ground chain of command and control,” McGuire said.

Tech. Sgt. Megan Bender, a weapons director with the 109th – and a former trumpet player with the now-defunct U.S. Air Force musical group Tops in Blue – said 109th personnel work as an integrated team not only within their own squadron, but with the various air assets that engaged in the operation.

Bender said when presented with the opportunity, she jumped at the chance to serve as a weapons controller.

“I am able to contribute directly to the fight,” she said. “When I first enlisted in 2005 on active duty, I was able to make a direct impact. I have one of the best jobs on the planet.”

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