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Northern Edge participants complete successful exercise

By Marine Sgt. Deanne Hurla / Alaskan Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELEMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - After two weeks of learning to communicate and work in a joint environment, service members from every branch of service are packing their bags and heading home with the conclusion of Exercise Northern Edge 2011.

The U.S. Pacific Command joint exercise, held from June 13 to 24, hosted active duty, reserve and National Guard component Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen for tactical-level integration training.

The two-week air and sea based exercise brought more than 100 aircraft and six naval vessels to Alaska. There were also service members around the world participating as virtual and constructive forces through the use of simulators, said Jeff Fee, Alaskan Command director of exercises and training.

To give the exercise a real-world effect, red forces, or aggressors, with state-of-the-art weapons were brought in to provide the largest aerial electronic warfare capability seen to date in the Department of Defense, Fee said.

To train the blue forces, or the good guys, red forces flew simulated aerial combat missions against each other. At the end of the exercise commanders and directors use the information gathered to measure the results.

"Mainly to see if our current weapons systems, training and ability to operate jointly are adequate for the defined enemy that we've put together," said Fee.

At the end of training an after action review is completed to determine the effectiveness of the exercise. The analysis will takes months to complete, but determines how well the services can integrate and how well their equipment performed in the environment created for them in Alaska. The information is then used in joint publications that all the services use to improve on their interoperability.

"Communication is key, whether it's through satellite or aircraft, so we can understand and work together quickly during any type of scenario that we may be involved in," said Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Dolata, 353rd Combat Training Squadron Detachment 1 director of operations. "Everyone has a little different speak and this is a great opportunity for us to learn to speak each other's language and for us to work well together."

There is always some frustration at the start of this type of exercise, because different units are not used to working together and it takes some effort to learn how to fit into the overall package, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Philip Stodick, 353rd CTS director of operations.

This exercise was no different, but by the end of the exercise, this frustration had morphed into knowledge of how each of the units would have to adjust their operations and what was needed to get the overall mission accomplished. Any future fight our military engages in will be a joint fight, according to Colonel Stodick.

This exercise allows for the opportunity to bring elements of the four services together to train how they will fight.  This is a necessity, because there is a lot of integration that must take place on the modern battlefield in order to effectively engage the enemy, he added.

"It takes prior planning and continual practice to make this integration happen seamlessly," said Colonel Stodick. "Trying to integrate in actual combat would cost lives due to the learning process that must take place."

Aircrews completed more than 1,600 sorties, spent 4,648 hours flying, and delivered 10 million pounds of fuel through aerial refueling during the exercise. They also spent several long hours preparing for flights and discussing the flights' outcomes.

The training during Exercise Northern Edge benefits all participants, and provides servicemembers a chance to prove they are ready to face any contingency.

"I've had the privilege of being a part of three Northern Edge exercises and I believe this is one of the best training environments to validate the competencies of our joint warfighters," said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, Alaskan Command commander. "Everybody involved has done a great job of putting together both a complex and realistic exercise scenario. I appreciate the professionalism on how this exercise was executed."


Note: Exercise Northern Edge images and video can be found at the following Web sites:

http://www.jber.af.mil/alcom/northernedge/northernedge2011.asp

http://www.dvidshub.net/search/?q=Northern+Edge&filter%5Bdate%5D=1m

http://www.youtube.com/user/NorthernEdge11

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