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MST 2 Conducts Arctic Exercise

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  • By 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

As the MC-130J Commando II special operations airlift aircraft comes to halt on the remote airfield, Airmen assigned to Mission Sustainment Team 2, Detachment 1, 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group, jumps into action. 

The plane flew in loaded with large, heavy pieces of equipment and materials needed to support operations in a contested environment, but the small contingency team manages to quickly unload all of it in a matter of minutes despite not having a forklift. Then, using a combination of light vehicles and their own strength, they move the large tent tarps and frames, generator, heaters, communications equipment, tools and personal packs roughly 200 yards and establish the small camp. Even though the team is made up of only seven Airmen from several different career fields, the area is ready to support command and control operations in under two hours. 

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General C. Q. Brown’s, “Accelerate Change or Lose'' initiative calls for new approaches to the Air Force’s core missions as it positions itself for strategic competition. This call to action has produced successful Air Force concepts, such as Agile Combat Employment. In the same vein, Air Force Special Operations Command has taken on the ACE approach through its homegrown Mission Sustainment Teams, an enabling force ready to provide sustainment for power projection, regardless of the operational environment. 

The MST 2 exercised their ability to establish and operate a contingency location in an austere environment here, November 2-4. The training was designed specifically to evaluate the newest mission sustainment team’s contingency element and their ability to operate in an arctic environment, according to Capt. Joseph Thomas, Det 1, 27 SOMSG Director of Operations. 

Multi-functional Airmen and teamwork are hallmarks of MST 2. They have all had extensive training at Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Air Force Range, making their responsiveness and dedication part of their foundational concepts identity. But this was hardly a normal job. After all, the Alaska Mountain Range is much different than New Mexico’s High Plains region, and it’s a lot easier to move equipment around a few tumbleweeds than through two feet of snow.

While the Arctic has long acted as a strategic buffer for the United States, the barrier is fast eroding as climate change warms up the region.  With unfavorable terrain and limited access to resources, the Arctic offered MST 2 an opportunity to exercise their ability to sustain operations in the frigid, desolate location. The event proved challenging, and interoperability between the MST and the unit they were supporting was critical.

“Most of our exercises up to this point had us working in warmer environments and more desert-like terrain,” said Thomas. “This was an opportunity for us to test our new equipment and capabilities in colder temperatures and operating conditions that are not ideal for both our team and the unit we are supporting.”  

The equipment and capabilities being evaluated were deployed by the small contingency team, designed under the MST maneuver team concept, in support of a specific objective in a contested, austere environment for an extended amount of time. Master Sgt. Ryan Fowler, MST 2 team chief, said the team was well prepared to bring warm shelter and reliable communications to the table despite the small team size and challenging conditions. 

“MST 2 is currently in the unit training phase, where we spend our first five months together training on all of these skills,” said Fowler. “Right from the beginning we’ve set the expectations, and we’ve worked hard to get physical and mental repetitions in on the skills we’re expected to have.” 

Fowler believes the real challenge the team faced was more mental than physical. However, he knew the synergy the team had built would rise to the occasion. 

“They had to get their minds to say, ‘hey, we’re not down the street from Cannon anymore, we’ve got to buckle down,’” said Fowler. “The team really did crush it in that respect. They were definitely eager to accept all the challenges that we laid out.” 

While the freezing temperatures gave MST 2 a chance to prove their ability to work together when the pressure was on, Thomas found the exercise highlighted natural dynamics of the budding unit that will ultimately be used to shape its future. 

“One of the things we wanted to identify on this exercise was the contingency team composition as we continue to develop that capability and find the right balance of Air Force Specialty Codes within that team,” said Thomas. “We [also] identified a lot of lessons learned during this exercise on what the equipment package for our contingency locations needs to look like, both in terms of what can operate in an arctic environment and how we can keep it small enough in size to be feasible for the team to work with, but also enough to sustain operations.” 

While MST 2 took home plenty of lessons learned, both Thomas and Fowler left Alaska impressed by how the team responded to the obstacles they faced and optimistic that it will pay dividends as the unit continues to grow.  

“They’ve actually gone and lived and done what MST is supposed to be all about, and they’ll be able to take that back and teach their peers what they learned and motivate them for when it’s their turn,” said Fowler. 

“The exercise really embodied everything we preach about how empowered Airmen can accomplish anything,” said Thomas. “When you foster the type of environment where they can grow, fail, learn and come to trust each other and themselves, the results really are astounding.”