POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, HI (2Lt Jaclyn Pienkowski) – “One, two, three…five, six, seven…I see seven chutes,” said an Air Force combat controller with the 353rd Special Operations Group, radioing back to the aircrew in the MC-130J Commando II that all jumpers were accounted for.
The jumpers followed the lowest man to the ground and in about seven minutes, one after another, they landed in soft grass on the hilly Kalakaua Range of the Pohakuloa Training Area.
The 353rd SOG pulled off a multi-aircraft, joint airborne operation 15 days into Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC 2016 in civilian airspace.
In three hours, the last of seven passes left 63 service members representing all four branches’ special operations assets in the U.S. Armed Forces on the ground and mission complete. A year of planning and hundreds of man hours of coordination culminated in Air Force Special Operations Command leading the joint operation that included members of Naval Special Warfare, Air Force Air Combat Command, Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“Crisis and time constraints often go hand in hand with one another,” said Capt. John Rulien, mission commander for the 353rd SOG participation in RIMPAC. “And when crisis calls, there is little time to form those critical relationships among partner units that we need to enable successful mission execution–whatever and wherever it may be.”
By investing in their joint relationships, SOF bolstered their ability to provide responsive aid in a time of need to the Pacific theater. Their collaborative relationship maximizes their agility and minimizes the time needed to respond to a contingency. The adaptable force formed within the SOF community makes success in an unpredictable environment achievable.
“Habitual training and forming relationships across Special Operations Command Pacific and III Marine Expeditionary Force maneuver units will only increase our ability to answer the call when it comes,” Rulien said.
As a combat controller directed air traffic in and out of the restricted air space, joint SOF showcased the ability to work together in a complex environment. The airborne operations provided special operations teams an opportunity to practice expeditionary access into a denied or hostile area.
The operation encompassed four services, seven commands, more than 150 service members, three air assets, and a 775 acre drop zone. Historically, bringing a diverse SOF team together like this is not accomplished often, but the benefits to strengthening the interoperability between special operations and conventional forces will be vital to the Pacific Command’s operational success.
“What airborne operations provide aside from non-standard infiltration proficiency is the opportunity to work with one another when the risk is heightened,” Rulien said. “Training together during risky operations solidify our trust in one another. That trust is imperative when the order comes for us to quickly integrate and execute real world problem sets.”
As a result of taking the time to train together, SOF becomes better than they were yesterday, learning from lessons experienced in a controlled training environment.
Twenty-six nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, over 200 aircraft, and 25,000 plus personnel are participating in RIMPAC in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety and security of sea lanes across the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2016 is the 25th iteration of the exercise that dates back to 1971.