July 29, 2016

Air Force, Army units collaborate to enhance interoperability

Jodi Ames
Scott AFB, Ill.

NATO service members prepare for a jump exchange prior to Saber Junction 16, April 5, 2016, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The exercise involved the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 16 allied and European nations conducting land operations in a joint, combined environment and to promote interoperability with participating nations.

Representatives from Air Mobility Command, 18th Air Force, 18th Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Transportation Command came together for a Joint Forcible Entry Readiness Symposium at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., July 19-22.

In an ongoing effort to enhance tactics and interoperability, planners and leaders from across these units met for four days to develop joint forcible entry training objectives and share lessons learned.

Now in its sixth iteration, the joint endeavor was born from the need to continually improve cooperation and collaboration between Air Mobility Command units and the U.S. Army to support the 82nd Airborne mission.

“This symposium was created by 18th Air Force and the 82nd Airborne Division commanders in order to build efficiencies,” said Lt. Col. Ben Russo, 18th Air Force deputy chief of combat operations.

“The ongoing collaboration betters our understanding of the Army’s training objectives and how we can synchronize our efforts to get better as a global response force,” he said.

While Air Force and Army planners coordinate with one another on a daily basis, the quarterly symposium affords them an opportunity to meet face-to-face and operate on the same page, said Maj. Aaron Billingsley, 82nd Airborne Division’s outgoing air operations manager.

“This forum is a place where we can come together and have an honest, open dialogue about what’s working, what isn’t and how we can improve,” he said.

It also gives the participants a chance to highlight successes and challenges, which they present to senior leaders in a series of culminating outbriefs.

This part of the symposium is significant because senior leaders can then address the issues and help eliminate roadblocks that hinder the services’ ability to work together, Billingsley said.

Since its inception in April 2015, the symposium has been widely viewed as a success, he added.

“Each time we have had newcomers, and each time we’ve seen this evolve and grow,” he said. “This week we have nearly 75 people here building relationships and working together to get better as a force.”

Maj. Travis Stellfox, 82nd Airborne Division’s incoming air operations manager, noted the significance of the symposium’s growth.

“The more participants we have, the more successful we will be,” he said. “This continual process is a very collaborative effort between blue and green, which is a huge benefit when developing an effective joint force.”

In fact, the idea to combine the recent Battalion Mass Tactical Week and the subsequent Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise into one huge training experience was the brainchild of planners working together to improve operational capabilities.

“This is a joint mission,” said 18th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Sam Cox. “JFERS provides an enhanced interoperability that is extremely valuable to us. We are working closer together now than we have in a decade, and this symposium is an integral part of a long-term relationship between 18th Airborne Corps and 18th Air Force.”

For TSgt. Andrew Kilbride, an 18th Air Force combat operations planner who has been a part of the symposium since the beginning, the most significant outcome has been the mutual understanding that comes from working as a team.

“To see this grow from two guys who were super-passionate about JFE into something that supports mutual understanding, as well as the commander’s intent and the 82nd’s training requirements … that’s what interoperability is all about,” he said.

The Joint Forcible Entry Readiness Symposium is held each quarter, with the location alternating between Scott AFB and the 82nd Airborne’s home at Fort Bragg, N.C.

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