Alpena Airmen Serve as Boat Crew to Support All Domain Operations during Northern Strike 2023

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • Michigan National Guard

When is a Captain actually a Technical Sergeant?

At the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in northern Michigan, that’s not a trick question.

Airmen at the base use a 25-foot Boston Whaler boat to facilitate operations on Lake Huron and support a wide range of training scenarios and have a small group of enlisted Airmen who serve as captains and crew of the vessel.

“Looking at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center as a whole, we knew we needed to be able to offer maritime support to give our customers a full breadth of options when they exercise here,” said Tech. Sgt. Gerad Pyszka, one of the Airmen who serve as a “captain” on the Air National Guard-owned boat.

Pyszka is officially an intelligence analyst who works in the Live Missions Operations Capability (LMOC) at the CRTC. When the mission requires, however, he and other Airmen from the CRTC trailer the boat to Lake Huron and support missions there. Among recent exercises, they worked with a Marine Corps helicopter squadron that was practicing engaging with a small, hostile force on the water; prior to that, the boat served as a safety boat during open water training for Air Force pararescue specialists.

“Our customers are military units from across the Dept. of Defense who are looking for opportunities to get training on land, in the air, in cyber and to be able to add in the maritime component is something that they just can’t get at most other places,” said Lt. Col. Brian Wyrzkowski, operations director at the CRTC.

What makes the maritime training option at Alpena particularly valuable is the large air space that the military controls over a portion of Lake Huron just off the shore of the CRTC. Recently, the CRTC secured a new type of threat emitter, which simulates the sensor attached to a surface to air missile. Airmen from the CRTC placed one of the emitters in a small boat that can be towed out into the lake by the Alpena boat. In August, during Exercise Northern Strike 2023, F-35 Lightning II aircraft conducted a training exercise over the lake and were engaged by the floating threat for the first time.

About a dozen Airmen assigned to the CRTC are qualified as crew on the boat. Four of them are certified to serve as captains. All of the crew are volunteers who perform boat duties are individuals who have personal backgrounds in small boats. They all took Safe Boater courses from the state of Michigan. The captains received additional training from the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard Auxiliary here in Alpena has been a huge help,” said Pyszka. “That’s one of the advantages of the National Guard, generally somebody knows somebody in the community who can help out and that’s how we made the connection with the Auxiliary.”

The NADWC includes the nearly 148,000 acres of training space at the Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and 17,000 square miles of special use military airspace at the CRTC.

Exercise Northern Strike 2023 is a premier reserve component training event that integrates both U.S. and partner nation readiness training to build interoperability and strengthen partnerships in an all-domain environment.