By Master Sgt. Janeen Miller, 143d AW/PA
/ Published November 19, 2013
09/27/2013 -- Airmen from the 143d Airlift Wing, Rhode Island Air National Guard, departed July 10, 2013 aboard a C-130J "Super Hercules" on a mission to South Africa. The team of 15 Rhode Warriors was tasked to provide airlift for Exercise Shared Accord 2013 in Port Elizabeth. They arrived in South Africa on July 19th completing the journey from Rhode Island that included stops in North Carolina, Canada, the Azores, Senegal, and Ascension Island. This culminated in a 33.2 hour trans-hemispheric, trans-Atlantic employment of personnel, along with 34 thousand pounds of mission essential cargo and combat assets.
Exercise Shared Accord 2013 took place July 22 - August 7 and was the second exercise of its kind between the United States and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF). The mission was to increase the interoperability and capacity of the participating forces to respond to foreign humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, crisis response, and combating terrorism operations in Africa. The ultimate goal was to build lasting relationships and increase the professional capacity of armed forces from both countries. In addition to the Rhode Warriors and SANDF, participants included service members from 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Special Forces Group, 2nd Marine Division, District of Columbia Army National Guard, New York Army National Guard, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Medical Command, and 1172nd Movement Control Team. The training exercise included a live fire operation, airborne and dismounted infantry tactics, a maritime amphibious assault, peacekeeping operations, and disaster response.
Team Rhody, along with their C-130J "Super Hercules", played a significant role in the exercise. They participated in air transit, tactical assault landings, and tactical airdrop operations. Because the 143d Airlift Wing provided the only transport aircraft used during Exercise Shared Accord, they were constantly in motion, interacting with both U.S. and South African Forces. They flew a total of 19 sorties, which included over 30 hours of flying, transporting 522 US and SANDF personnel. The missions included 353 airdropped personnel, and the movement of over 30 thousand pounds of cargo. The Airmen demonstrated the C-130J all weather, day/night capability resulting in qualification of all SANDF jumpers which validated the success of the exercise. On another mission, the Rhode Warriors demonstrated the diverse capability of the C-130J and their aircrew. Following a successful personnel airdrop, the Airmen quickly converted to an airborne command and control post, functioning as a mobile communications platform, providing eyes on target for the Combined Task Force Commander. Upon identification of an exercise enemy submarine threat, the aircrew again converted to an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance platform and accomplished that mission for an impending friendly amphibious assault.
While overcoming language and equipment barriers, the 143d Airlift Wing team members worked intricately and expertly with the SANDF personnel. "Working with the South Africans [was] very rewarding," said Senior Airman Joseph Costello, a loadmaster with the 143d AW, "They're so enthusiastic about what they're doing, even if they don't do everything the way we're trained to--they work with what they have." That enthusiasm was underlined when Costello and his fellow Airmen picked up members of the South African airborne corps during one of the exercise missions. "We were taxiing out and...the South African guys began clapping and cheering," said Staff Sergeant Stephen Gillissie, also a Team Rhody loadmaster. "They don't get to fly as much as U.S. Airmen do but the energy is definitely there."
Team Rhody's participation in the exercise was essential for gaining the experience that will be needed should an actual contingency arise. "This is an important real-world exercise and the reason we do this is to get important training, [to] see what's going on and get in practice so when it is the real deal, we're on point and ready to go." said Technical Sergeant Thomas McCallum, an aircraft electrical engineer with the 143d AW said. Airman Costello agreed, adding that the fact the exercise is happening outside the U.S. adds to the challenge. "It prepares us for the unknown," he sai., "It doesn't matter what country we're working with. We know we'll be able to overcome any language or cultural barriers to quickly become a team and complete our mission successfully."
"I'm very proud of our team of Rhode Warriors. On a daily basis and around the globe, they continue to represent the Air National Guard and the U.S. Force in an exceptional manner." said Colonel Arthur Floru, 143d AW Commander. "Shared Accord was an incredible opportunity for many of our younger teammates to gain valuable experience that will serve our nation well into the future."
The Rhode Warriors returned to Rhode Island on August 11 after another very successful and rewarding mission.