Rally in the Swamp

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 815th Airlift Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, delivered cargo, personnel, and provided air support for Rally in the Swamp June 7-9, 2022.

This year’s 22nd Air Force exercise, Rally in the Swamp, was held in Florida to test Reserve Citizen Airmen on agile combat support by challenging them with realistic scenarios that support a full spectrum of operations.

While the aircrews are given a scenario to plan out, they don’t get the full mission until the day of and have to make a plan with little information, in order to give them a more realistic picture of what would happen during military actions, operations or in a hostile environment.

“This exercise gave our aircraft commanders the opportunity to come up with a good, solid plan and back-up plan for completing the mission,” said Capt. Ryan Rivera, 815th Airlift Squadron pilot. “It was a really good training tool, especially for a co-pilot, to be able to know why things are happening and how the planning works.”

Part of that planning had to take into account the aircraft communication aspects, but not in the sense of speaking across the radio. It was in terms of navigation, because while three units present were all flying C-130s, they were all flying three different versions of the C-130.

Air Force Reserve units, the 327th Airlift Squadron, from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and the 815th AS, were flying J models, but with two different upgrades to the navigation systems and the 700th Airlift Squadron, out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., was flying the H model, which depends upon a different navigation system operated by an actual navigator, along with different datalink capabilities and the different load plans capabilities.

“The navigational system of the two J model C-130s flies the routes and defines the air drops different from each other, and then the H model has a navigator to control the run-ins for a drop,” said Capt. Michael Plash, 815th AS aircraft commander. “All three aircraft are flying the exact same mission, but they are all doing different things to make that work, which is something that had to be factored into the planning.”

That planning included conducting airdrops of container delivery systems, which can be used to deliver items such as food, water, fuel or other required items.

One part of the exercise included dropping a large amount of CDS’s in a circular drop zone versus a normal rectangular drop zone, said Rivera.

“A circular DZ allows aircraft to approach from any direction but may require more detailed planning than traditional rectangular DZs,” he said. “The detailed measurements allows the drop to land more precisely placed where requested by the ground controllers.”

As far as drop zones go, one area that the 815th AS doesn’t normally practice at Keesler is conducting water drops.

“As a new co-pilot, this was a great training opportunity,” said 1st. Lt. James Zock, 815th AS pilot. “Doing the water drop was new to me.”

During this portion of the exercise, the units trained on performing an overwater search and rescue and conducting a sea rescue kit drop.

The search and rescue portion included having a “survivor” in the water using a colored dye pack to highlight the water and a signal mirror to reflect the sunlight to attract the pilots’ attention in order to be spotted while “lost” at sea.

“Seeing the signal mirror was a big attention grabber,” said 1st. Lt. James Zock, 815th AS pilot. “I didn’t see the color in the water very well, until after I saw the mirror.”

Once a survivor is located, their latitude and longitude is marked, and the on-scene commander in charge of the search is notified. Then the aircrew will drop a sea rescue kit upwind of the survivor, where it will float in a U-shape and wrap around the person, this way the person can reach the items to survive until they are rescued.

“A basic sea kit is dependent upon the agency that is dropping them,” said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Patton, 403rd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment craftsman. “But in general, the kit can include water and a water purification system, some type of signaling device, a radio of some kind, along with a raft repair kit and possibly a medical module to use until help arrives.”

Other training included agile support for a fighter unit by providing airlift for the maintenance and security forces units to complete integrated combat turnaround.

“Simply put, we picked up their maintainers, equipment and some security forces personnel, transported them to a simulated austere location, and then waited for the fighters to come in to be rearmed, reequipped, and refueled, which tested them for ICT,” said Plash.

The 815th AS also took part in wet-wing defueling, which is used to quickly transfer fuel from one aircraft to another in forward operating bases where they don’t have an established fuel storage facility. The aircraft lands, keeps engines running, and on-site ground crews transfer the fuel from the wing to a fuel truck. The fuel truck then transfers that fuel to another aircraft.

“Overall, the exercise is really good for the younger guys, and really can help refine some of the skills and knowledge of those who have had experience before,” said Rivera.