Operation Northern Strike training takes to the air to show how to pound the ground.

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Lee Fisher
  • 126th Public Affairs Operations Center
GRAYLING, Mich. -- Like a circling hawk eyeing the ground below for prey, the F16C fighter jet sought out the signal from a beam of light that would mark a target 3,200 feet below. On the ground two Joint Terminal Attack Controllers hunt out a likely victim for the orbiting aircraft. Using a laser marker Chief Master Sgt. Tony Trisilla and Master Sgt. Chuck Barth of the 182nd Air Support Operations Group of the Illinois Air National Guard identified a military vehicle, in a simulated enemy convoy on the air-to-ground impact range at Camp Grayling.

As the airmen "painted the target" with the laser, the pilot and his aircraft received the signal that would allow them to deliver a 2,000 pound punch onto the unsuspecting convoy with devastating accuracy. A range of scenarios like this were used over the 14 day training exercise known as Operation Northern Strike.

A chance encounter between Trisilla and the Michigan Army National Guard's 126th Cavalry in 2010, led to a partnership that would include several air and ground military disciplines of indirect fire. The company commanders took swift action to coordinate missions and get the training underway. "Like chocolate mixing with peanut butter to make a Reese's Cup it came together perfectly," said Trisilla. That was the catalyst for making the exercise this year a reality.

"That small training session went so well and we received such positive feedback from so many people that we knew that we were on to something very beneficial to all involved," said Trisilla. Some of the pilots commented that it was the first time that they had engaged targets using ground spotting rounds.

Aircraft training during Operation Northern Strike was vast and varied. Fighters like F16Cs from Minnesota and Ohio, A-10 close air support jets from Michigan and Indiana, and United States Air Force B-52 bombers were utilized for air-to-ground fire missions. KC-135 aerial refuelers from Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio were used for air to air refueling missions. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Michigan took part in moving ground troops, medical evacuation missions and some air to ground fire missions.

Ground assets included artillery units from Illinois and Michigan. JTACs came from Illinois, Latvia, and Canada. Command and control was run by the Combat Readiness Training Center in Alpena, Mich.. They coordinated all missions that involved the aircraft. These included strafing runs that utilize a jet's direct fire weapons, spotter rounds fired by helicopters and ground troops, combat search and rescue missions flown by jets and helicopters, long range bombing runs of the B-52s and in-flight refueling by KC-135s.

Each day of the exercise put priority on different facets of combined asset training with overlapping missions to provide reality-based scenarios. "The National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center, at Fort Polk, La., deal with higher echelon unit missions," said Trisilla. "This is the first time something of this scale has been done on the company or the battalion level and Camp Grayling has the ideal situation to make it a reality," said Trisilla. A template will be developed so this type of training can be utilized at other sites that meet the same criteria that Camp Grayling provided.

Realistic combat training allows those in need of help during times of conflict can have peace of mind. The encounter at Camp Grayling in 2010 led to unprecedented success in air strike technology, and will be utilized in future military operations.