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US and Allies benefit from exercise Northern Edge 23-2

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Michelle Chang and Staff Sgt. Hannah Strobel
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings and French Air and Space Force airmen arrived in Palau in support of Northern Edge 23-2 (NE 23-2).

A joint, multinational exercise conducted across the Pacific, NE 23-2 marks the first time the exercise has taken place outside of Alaska, touching Japan, Guam and even Palau. Exercising throughout the Indo-Pacific allows for interoperability challenges that provide high-end, realistic training and enhances the readiness of all the participating forces, working together to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“Agile Combat Employment in the Pacific theater of operations is a complex tactical challenge,” said Maj. Michael “Flash” McVay, 466th Fighter Squadron, F-35A Lightning II pilot. “Bringing all of the capabilities that the United States Air Force and our coalition has to bear in order to sustain the theater and uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific is something that we have to exercise at scale like we’ve been doing in Northern Edge.”

NE 23-2 brought together U.S. Joint Force service members, an Expeditionary Fighter Wing comprised of Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings assigned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and a French Air and Space Force Rafale unit to support combined flight operations throughout the region.

“The deployment we made to Palau with our F-35 friends shows that we are able to deploy quickly and with a small amount of logistics and aircraft and to see that we can still perform the mission and be able to operate from a degraded situation,” said French Air and Space Force Major Lindsay “Barbeque”, Dassault Rafale pilot. “It’s pretty important to us to see that we are capable of doing that.”

In forward deploying to Palau, the combined Joint Force practiced Agile Combat Employment (ACE) in a degraded environment and discovered forward-thinking ways to not only move the force throughout the island chain, but to set up and execute operations in Palau. The force comprised many different career fields in the military, U.S. and French, such as pilots, maintainers, intelligence analysts, medical specialists, firefighters, engineers, logisticians, Security Forces defenders and more.

“As a command, we mobilized and deployed over 150 Airmen in order to partner with our French and Palauan partners,” said Col. Jennifer Feiderer, 419th Mission Support Group (MSG) commander. “Members of the 419th MSG’s Logistics Readiness Squadron, Security Forces Squadron, Force Support Squadron, Civil Engineer Squadron, and the 67th Aerial Port Squadron executed a seamless integration upon their arrival in Guam and Palau. Our involvement in NE 23-2 was an incredible display of our Airmen’s ability to apply innovative ideas in order to adapt to a rapidly changing set of requirements.”

The supporting functions of the expeditionary force were vital to the success of flying operations conducted in the Pacific theater. Every day on the island, maintainers from both the U.S. and French forces generated and received aircraft, allowing the fleet of fighters to fly into mission success.

“We were able to provide the French with our fuel injector system that we had sourced, and give them additives when it had broke arriving in country,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Sudak, 466th AMU senior enlisted leader. “So we were able to work as a team to make sure both sides’ airplanes were given everything they need to survive.”

The presence of U.S. and allied forces in Palau is not only important to U.S. and allied interests, but to the nation of Palau as well.

“As a COMPACT Free Association Agreement (COFA) state, the agreement includes the U.S. military providing full security and defense for the country,” said Maj. Renee Kittka, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Liaison Officer (LNO) to Palau deployed from the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. “A consistent drumbeat of military exercises provides a much needed boost to the local economies, which also normally include construction projects around the community, and community relations events.”

The U.S. Department of Defense has provided a rotational Civic Action Team (CAT) in Palau since the late 1960's. They serve the community by taking on important construction projects, providing ongoing medical assistance, tutoring students, activating support for emergency operations due to storm damages, and planning multiple community events throughout the year.

“This presence is vital for building and sustaining relations with the government of Palau, while also providing a deeper understanding of the environment we may have to operate in,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brendan Kruse, Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation in Palau. “The work we do with our partners and allies in the region also focuses on increasing Palau's capability to protect their Exclusive Economic Zone and deter threats.”

While on the island, U.S. Air Force and French Air and Space Force service members were able to engage with the local community and show their support through multiple F-35A Lightning II and Dassault Rafale fly-overs on the island. One fly-over was held at a local baseball game during the Belau Games, an annual olympic tournament involving the whole island and all of its 13 states. The second was in support of a recovery mission of the bodies of missing in action U.S. Navy aviators who lost their lives during World War II. The F-35s flew the flight pattern of the MIA Sailors, symbolically finishing the mission where they tragically lost their lives.

The team also engaged with the community by holding a static display with both an F-35A Lightning II and a Dassault Rafale. Supporting agencies such as fire and an Army battalion also participated by bringing fire suppression equipment and an Army 1-1 air defense artillery 14T Patriot.

“Coming to this event today has given us some information as to the cooperation between the U.S. and France and how they are working to improve the training to help the Pacific rim and protect our islands,” said a local Palauan woman attending the display with her family. “Thank you guys for the effort you put in to protect our island, we’re happy to have you guys here, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to see the jets.”

A field day at Arai Elementary school finished off the team’s time in Palau. The school aged children from grades preschool to eighth grade interacted with U.S. and French service members, asking questions about their experience in the military and learning about what it means to serve the region.

“As part of the COFA, Palauan citizens are able to serve in the U.S. military. It is worth noting that Palauans serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate, per capita, than any U.S. state,” said Kittka. “The children of Palau look up to you, and you should not underestimate the impact your presence and actions have on young Palauans and the future decisions they make.”