Operation Northern Strike 2013: Joint Military Muscle in Michigan

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Denice Rankin and Technical Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • Michigan Air National Guard
In one of the most comprehensive displays of military might in the modern history of the Great Lakes region, Operation Northern Strike 2013 brought together U.S. and international military personnel for two weeks of intense operational training at locations across northern Michigan in August 2013.

The total force exercise highlighted the integrated combat capability of both fixed and rotary aviation, cavalry, field artillery and infantry assets from 29 active-duty and National Guard units and two coalition partners, Latvia (Michigan's partner in the National Guard State Partnership Program) and Canada.

Sponsored by the National Guard Bureau, Operation Northern Strike 2013 showcased the training facilities at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center, the Grayling Air Gunnery Range and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, all located in northern Lower Michigan. Alpena CRTC is within miles of Lake Huron and offered unique maritime training with the U.S. Coast Guard Mackinaw icebreaker, A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft and Army Special Operations Aviation Command. One exercise off the shore of Lake Huron provided air to ground training with airborne A-10 pilots and National Guard Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from Alpena, CRTC, the 121st Air Refueling Wing (Ohio ANG), the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron (Illinois ANG) and Latvia.

The unforeseen sequestration cuts presented a few fiscal challenges.

"Some things have to be scaled back, but honestly, this is where the National Guard really shines because we are able to, on a very cost effective manner, conduct the exercise," said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, the adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Joint training is important for those who enter today's battlefield.

"When we're at war we need to function as one to achieve a common goal, but it is rare we get to train as a joint fighting force," said Brig. Gen. Leonard Isabelle, Jr., commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. "Here we have air and ground forces, maritime elements, Army, Marines, just a diverse group of military organizations and it is difficult to get them together in one spot--and Northern Strike does that. The CRTC is designed to host units from other locations and bring them together to use all of its assets," Isabelle said. "In this day of fiscal challenges we're looking to have the same level of training, at less cost. The CRTC has the facilities to house, feed, and train our forces and it is a lot cheaper than going to Nellis Air Force Base, which is outside Las Vegas and having to pay to house the soldiers in hotels and feed them. You can imagine how much that costs."

Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau visited the training sites and said the CRTC and Camp Graying are perfect for this type of training.

"I can tell you, coming from Washington, [D.C.] that future budgets are going to be tight and training is going to be tough, so I think there will be a quest to find the most efficient training one can do," Lengyel said. "It only makes sense if you can do everything we need to do, use live ammo, airspace, have access to water and feed and house the troops...it is natural that this place would stand out."
Selfridge Air National Guard Base's 127th Wing provided both A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft to the exercise.

"The Michigan National Guard continues to develop tools to jointly project air power anywhere in the world," 127th Wing Commander Col. Michael Thomas said. "Our Air National Guard units, facilities and synergies lead the way in becoming the eyes and ears of the warfighter, presenting and processing information for the entire team in unprecedented ways."

UH-60 Blackhawks and UH-72 Lakota helicopters from the 238th Aviation Support Battalion, Michigan Army Guard also shared the runway at Alpena with F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, C-130 Hercules transports from Massachusetts, Ohio, and Illinois Guard units, and Blackhawk helicopters from the Army SOAC.

The 110th Airlift Wing's 217th Air Operations Group, located at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, provided critical command and control facilities.

"The exercise highlighted our ability to seamlessly integrate real-time communications with multiple state and international agencies," said Maj. Ross Evenhouse, an evaluator with the 217th.

The exercise featured more than 396 air sorties, many of which included 'live-fire' evolutions at the Grayling Air Gunnery Range and an aerial para-trooper demonstration with Army Special Forces personnel and pallets ejecting from a C-130 Hercules aircraft and landing near the Alpena, CRTC flight line.

"Northern Strike 2013 establishes the framework for future joint multi-dimensional operations at Camp Grayling and the Alpena CRTC--allowing for progression in complexity, integration and depth," said Col. Bryan Teff, the commander of the Alpena CRTC. "This event validates the necessity of joint forces training needed to sustain a ready Michigan Army and Air National Guard that has regional focus and global agility."