SIERRA BLANCA REGIONAL AIRPORT, NEW MEXICO --
A breath stealing squall howls angrily across the high plains, suppressing the ring of hammers frantically striking tent stakes as Cannon Air Commandos race the clock to build shelters at nearly seven thousand feet above sea level. Impenetrable clouds heave a bone chilling deluge across the horizon, as if to drown the snow capped mountains in the distance. A mere glance out the canvas tent flaps is all a determined mind needs to doubt its resolve against such a tempest of hostility. However, the 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group, Detachment 1, Mission Sustainment Team 2 remains unfazed and continues operations as normal.
Airmen of various ranks and Air Force Specialty Codes hustle about their contingency location like heavily specialized worker ants, finding everything in need of a fix and immediately creating a solution. Although the shelters suffer gale force winds and sleet, all ten tents stand rock solid, keeping equipment and Airmen safe and sound. Unpredictable weather and environments threaten their mission, but 1st Lt. Liam Lawrence leads a team of individuals trained to withstand and adapt to harsh conditions.
“The weather presents challenges and an opportunity to practice skill sets in physically degraded environments,” said 1st Lt. Liam Lawrence, 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group, Detachment 1, Mission Sustainment Team 2 commander. “We often find that in tough situations, we fall back on training. Exercises like this give us an opportunity to train in challenging environments… which help us build the ‘connective tissue’ needed when building a site.”
Mission Sustainment Team sites often include, but are not limited to, one sleeping tent per crew, a chow hall tent, a single pallet expeditionary kitchen and a joint operations center, all set up within a few short hours. Depending on the location and the size of the overall force, there are extra generators and air conditioning units to be considered, which are valuable assets in austere environments.
This is not MST’s first exercise in harsh conditions. The team has successfully completed multiple exercises in northern Utah and one at Allen Army Airfield, Alaska. They are able to support themselves and other field units across the full spectrum of operations at any time and anywhere.
“As far as transportation goes, there is no limiting factor on where we can go,” said Lawrence. “Rotary wing, fixed wing, land, sea… These are all open avenues for us. The only constraints are the hostility of the environment, the permissiveness of the environment.”
MST hand picks Airmen from across the 27 SOMSG and builds teams from the ground up through months of focused training, instilling a sense of family and camaraderie amongst all who wear the Detachment 1 patch. Even those outside MST take notice of how well the team works together to ensure it lives up to its name - sustaining the mission.
“We gave them [MST] an idea and they immediately created a plan and had something deliverable within hours,” said Master Sgt. Lawrence Lopez, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron senior enlisted leader and full mission profile exercise planner. “MST had most of the infrastructure set up here within a few hours. It’s one thing to hear that and another to actually see what they’ve built out here. A ‘well oiled machine’ is what comes to mind when describing their leadership tier down to their individual jobs; it’s amazing to see how all these Airmen can come together in a short amount of time and perform at this level with little to zero hiccups."
The cohesiveness of the Airmen also hints at a much larger objective MST is targeting - supporting and enabling the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy. Originating from the Air Combat Command (ACC), ACE is a military strategy designed to provide a Joint Force Commander (JFC) flexible and lethal forces anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.
According to the Air Force Doctrine Note (AFDN) 1-21 , these highly specialized ACE units are often assembled in the moment of need to be inserted into high stress environments, bypassing delays and roadblocks that can be caused by traditional deployment models. The MST employment concept ensures Airmen are well acquainted with one another before they step out in the field, limiting hiccups that could otherwise slow down the mission.
When employed, ACE is designed to bedevil adversaries’ actions and increase survivability of friendly forces, while generating sustainable combat power from austere locations as written in AFDN 1-21. The participant information pamphlet from MST’s validation exercise back in October of 2021 states the MST enables these actions by providing JFCs a cohesive team of multi-functional Airmen that can create and sustain living conditions for special operations and combat forces in any environment.
“[The MST] is the Employment part of [ACE],” said Lawrence. “We enable forces to be agile and generate various aircraft to get after their mission. Our sister services are able to take runways with them on the sea or use rotary wing aircraft that don’t need the long runways we do, so this is our opportunity to catch up. Our advantage is the quality and training of our personnel, which helps us deliver a proven track record of success in the field.”
Constant training and evaluation highlights MST’s strong areas and revealed pathways for improvement. It represents an advanced military tactic in support of a much grander strategy for employing forces downrange, falling in line with Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr’s Accelerate Change or Lose initiative. Cannon Air Commandos pathfinding new force generation tactics are driven to change the face of future Air Force Special Operations Command engagements.
“Team 1 had a lot of talent, but they didn’t have the backing of a set standard of procedures,” said Lawrence. “Their efforts helped create systematic skill sets that can be applied to all others down the line to form repeatable products offered by any MST in the future. It’s our duty to create capable Special Operations Forces now in order to employ them when the time comes.”
Hard work and dedicated success lay the foundation to propel the MST into high demand as the state of conflict is ever evolving, according to AFDN 1-21. The early actions of these Airmen will help pave the way for those who follow and ensure successful operations in the future by providing tried and true training plans, notes, anecdotes and experiences to anyone new to the unit. It won’t be an easy road, but Lawrence believes these challenges will make the results that much more worth it in the end.
“The Army Rangers have a longstanding history of getting the mission done when it’s hard, like the SEALs and Delta Force,” said Lawrence. “If MST wants to make it to that level, we have to adopt that mindset. We are not just support Airmen, we are as integral to the mission as anyone else. Having that inner confidence and repeatable excellence behind us will let people know what MST is.”