More than 800 Airmen, Sailors and Defense Department civilians from nine states completed exercise Sentry Aloha, a large-scale fighter exercise, Dec. 19, 2018, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The Hawaii Air National Guard exercise is held several times a year to provide aircraft with dissimilar combat training among participating flying and support units. The fighter aircraft consisted of the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons’ JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam-based F-22 Raptors, Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagles and Navy F-18 Hornets from China Lake, Calif.
The back-to-back combat training included in-air refueling by KC-135 Stratotankers from Iowa and Wisconsin Air National Guard air refueling units, a component that enables U.S. and partnered aircraft to operate virtually anywhere on the planet. Lt. Col. Matthew Ohman, Sentry Aloha exercise director, said the refueling capabilities maximized the fast-paced training.
“Exercises like this gives us a chance to just be part of the bigger picture and it builds confidence,” said Chief Master Sgt. Donald Strickland, 128th Air Refueling Wing chief boom operator, “especially for our younger pilots and boom operators. It gives them exposure to other types of receiving aircraft and to see how quickly it all happens, opposed to the routines we’re used to at our home station. This helps us know what to expect when it’s actually time to deploy.”
The integration of Hawaii’s fifth-generation Raptors and visiting fourth-generation fighters enabled aviators to enhance their aerial tactics and prepare for a multitude of war-fighting scenarios. The Department of Defense relies on joint efforts, such as exercise Sentry Aloha, to maintain air dominance and preserve the peace and stability throughout the Pacific region.
“Sentry Aloha is not only unique in its location in beautiful Hawaii, but it also provides some of the best joint training the Air Force has to offer,” said Ohman. “The focus of Sentry Aloha is to develop unit-specific, tailored scenarios that ensure the majority of tactical learning takes place in the airspace, not in the trenches of mission planning. This is unique from Flag exercises, which have inflexible scenarios given to units when they attend.”
While JBPH-H maintains fifth-generation fighters, it still upholds a permanent supply of aircraft-ground equipment to cater for visiting fourth-generation aircraft. Senior Master Sgt. Noel Demello, Sentry Aloha maintenance planner, said the readily-available equipment significantly lowers expenses because it reduces the need to airlift personnel and large-volumes of supplies used to generate aircraft.
Unlike past iterations of the exercise, more than 20 personnel from the 154th Mission Support Group were activated to operate the HIANG’s dining facility and provide around-the-clock meals, including ‘midnight chow,’ for hundreds of Airmen. Tech. Sgt. Priscilla Kim, 154th MSG dining facility manager, said this was the first time her Airmen have been asked to take on a tasking this large and it provided them much-needed experience for upcoming deployments, slated for next year. The freshly-cooked meals also saved time for exercise participants and cut down costs of overall training.
Due to the unpredictable nature of aircraft operations, mission planners always need to be prepared to for the possibility of an aircraft mishap. Sentry Aloha flights were suspended for one day on Dec. 12, in response to a civilian aircraft crash into the waters by Honolulu airport. The pilot, an exercise contractor, was able to successfully eject before impact and received care within minutes of landing.
“I was extremely proud to see how well we worked together after [the aircraft] went down shortly after takeoff last week,” said Ohman. “It was awesome to find out civilians from the community pitched in almost immediately to lend a helping hand in his recovery until the Coast Guard arrived. These extraordinary efforts by normal citizens is truly what makes me proud to be an American.”
The 199th Fighter Squadron is part of the 154th Wing, the largest wing in the Air National Guard. The Hawaii Air National Guard is comprised of nearly 2,500 Airmen whose federal mission is to be trained and available for active duty Air Force operational missions.
“Continual participation in events like this make us a stronger force,” said Col. Sean Sullivan, Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Operations Group commander. “These exercises are essential, not only for the pilots, but for the training and expertise of the maintainers, the aircrew flight equipment (Airmen), and our airfield managers. Its a lot more than the pilot flying the airplane to make that happen, and these exercises are a crucial part of us continuing to get better, as a team and as an Air Force.”