JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Sixteen aircraft, 335 paratroopers, six door bundles and 19 pieces of heavy equipment were just a few components contributing to joint exercise JADE HELM’s success. Months of preparation all came down to the execution of both air and ground performances from May 1 to May 5.
Exercise JADE HELM is a strategic, unconventional warfare exercise incorporating the efforts of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army and took place from February 7 to May 7, with the JFE portion taking place in the last week. The exercise spanned multiple states and focused on “beyond line of sight” communications and coordination over a large geographic area. Primarily, Airmen assigned to Joint Base Charleston, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dyess Air Force Base and Little Rock Air Force Base executed the mission alongside Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and United States Army Special Operations Command.
Capt. Eric de Gruchy 437th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Commander served as the Air Force lead planner for the exercise. More than a month has passed since the exercise ended but de Gruchy remembers the challenges and triumphs that came with being a planner for an event of JADE HELM’s size.
“This was the first exercise I’ve ever planned,” said de Gruchy. “Going into it, what I wish I had known was the scale of it. I had no perspective on that when I initially signed up for the exercise. It all came down on me like a ton of bricks and it was very eye opening.”
Despite the pressures and high tempo de Gruchy achieved success by finding as many ways as possible to work within the joint environment.
“We actually planned side-by-side with the Army in the same mission planning cell, in the same vault,” said de Gruchy. “Day one we were able to hash out all the items that usually don’t get discussed until days later. We stood around their white board, they discussed objectives and requirements and then we literally turned around, went to our white board, and discussed what we were able to provide and our requirements.”
Making the drop zone safe for paratroopers and rebuilding the landing zone for aircraft, attaining logistics and funding, plus finalizing the list of participants were just a few challenges the team overcame prior to execution. Additionally, working side-by-side with a planning team run by Capt Joe Becker at Dyess AFB, de Gruchy said by deciding to embrace a joint planning environment, JADE HELM participants could more effectively fine tune preparation and set them up for success.
When the exercise kicked off, Air Force participants effectively provided beyond line of sight communications, secured a video teleconference to provide intelligence and delivered 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers and equipment to enable the Army to successfully conduct a simulated airfield seizure.
“As far as the exercise it was definitely a success,” said de Gruchy. “There were many potential show stoppers we had to overcome, all of which, if had gone bad, would have made us unable to execute. There were also significant objectives we were able to achieve. All but one of the aircraft went out and we got as many people out on our C-17s as possible and the Army was able to execute their mission. We achieved our first pass success criteria.”
Capt. de Gruchy said the exercise showcased Air Mobility Command’s rapid global mobility capability. Air Mobility Command demonstrated their ability to execute the mission in a short time line as well as enhanced interoperability between the Air Force and Army. Along with these team successes, Capt de Gruchy experienced personal accomplishments.
“I’ve learned a significant amount about the Army and some other capabilities the Air Force has,” said Capt de Gruchy. “I’d say the growing process was broadening my perspective as to what’s out there and gaining a larger appreciation of what people do. The thing that helped me the most was the excellent support we have at the 437th Airlift Wing. Everyone from the Weapons Officers, the people with me in the planning cell to the Airmen and Family Readiness Center were all very forthcoming and willing to help. That’s what makes these exercises happen.”
Col. Jimmy Canlas, 437th Airlift Wing commander, attributes each Airman’s individual efforts to team success during exercises like these.
“Exercise JADE HELM is just one example where we proved we are the Airlift Wing of choice,” said Canlas. “The efforts and attention to detail that Airmen like Capt. de Gruchy put forth every day are what make this all happen. This exercise is just one way that we continue to safely provide precise, reliable airlift worldwide.”