GULFPORT, Miss. --
For the first time, the 125th Special Tactics Squadron (STS), assigned to Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, was invited to participate in Southern Strike 2020 taking place in Gulfport, Miss. Jan. 30 through Feb. 13, 2020.
Southern Strike 2020 is a large Joint Force exercise put on by the Air National Guard Bureau and is located at the Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) in Gulfport, Mississippi. This exercise provides special operators a unique training opportunity in a location that enables combat effectiveness by working with various Joint Task Force entities in Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
This year’s exercise allowed Special Tactics Airmen to collaborate with thousands of service members from different military branches, civilians, and even Dutch foreign partners. The special tactics training helped reinforce the key missions of global access, precision strike, personnel recovery, and battlefield surgery operations.
“Making sure we get valuable realistic repetitions of our real world mission set, and exercise that capability with all of the assets, helps in our own goal to prep our force as we come out of conversion and exercise our mission to be fully capable going into 2021,” said Lt. Col. Robert Effler, 125th STS Commander.
The 125th STS worked directly with the Mississippi Air and Army National Guard, the Navy Reserves, Air Force Special Operations Surgical Teams (SOST), and Dutch special operations forces. Dutch SOF teams were specifically interested in training with Special Tactics Airmen as they have trained with Army Special Forces before and wanted to try something new, Effler said.
Special Tactics SOSTs also played a big role in this year’s exercise. Having SOST on board with Special Tactics Airmen helps mitigate medical risk factors on deployments where they perform lifesaving surgeries and medical care en route to a Role 2 medical facility. The SOST lead said they were invited to come to Southern Strike from the 125th STS.
“I’ve never done an exercise with a guard [Special Tactics Squadron] before, so it’s been good integrating with them as we are getting ready for deployment,” said the SOST lead. “It broadens our experience, which is good because we could be attached to anybody when we’re down range, so the more reps we get with people state-side, the better.”
SOSTs participated in 125th STS’s own independent unit exercise, Advanced Seminole, last year, and continue to work with various special operations units across the globe to provide medical care in combat zones when there isn’t enough time to evacuate injured personnel to a large medical facility.
For all Special Tactics units involved, Southern Strike 2020 provided the opportunity to conduct tactical level integration, increase lethality, exercise scenarios built from current global crises and enhance interoperability with joint partners and allies.
“I think we’re doing extremely well. We were fortunate to conduct Advanced Seminole just six months ago, which was a unit level exercise independent of any major exercise, but here we have access to all the ranges and air support entities,” said Effler. “There is always room for improvement, but the unit is performing well and definitely exceeding my expectations.”