Southern Strike 19 drew nearly 2,000 participants to train at the Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTRC) in Gulfport, Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Hattiesburg, Camp McCain Training Center in Grenada, and Naval Air Station Meridian in Meridian. While the exercise spanned two weeks beginning January 15, it took a year of planning sessions to develop realistic scenarios. The goal was to provide service members from multiple branches a controlled environment to prepare for effective coordination in real world situations.
“The beauty of Southern Strike is that it’s cost effective. We allow the units to come in and tell us the training that they need. We try to shape the exercise around their training requirements,” said Col. Billy Murphy, Southern Strike exercise director. “We’ve been doing this for eight years so we’re getting pretty good at it.”
Southern Strike 19 participants included 45 units from 24 states. The service members conducted full mission profiles based on current global crises and worked on improving skillsets like detonating explosives, fast rope insertion and extraction system, and hostage recovery. Since the CRTC controls ample air space over land and water, participants used the area to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Murphy said Mississippi’s military training facilities are a well-kept secret.
“You have Camp Shelby, which is more than 135,000 acres of training lanes where they can do individual weapons qualifications,” he said. “They can utilize the Combined Arms Collective Training site. It’s a wonderful site where they can do actual breaches and rescue either hostages, civilians or personnel. So, the training sites that we have in Mississippi are a great asset to this exercise and to our nation as the warriors come to train here.”
Southern Strike focuses on developing the interoperability among National Guardsmen, Active Duty, Reservists, and Special Forces. Members of the Navy’s Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 out of Jacksonville, Florida, said the benefits of taking part in aerial gunnery exercises with the Tactical Air Control Party are unique.
“Our community very rarely gets an opportunity to work over land with the other forces,” said Naval Aircrewman 1st Class Michael Fout, of HSM-60. “We do joint operations over water and over islands and things like that, but we haven’t had a chance to do many of these battle problems.”
|An Airman assigned to the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron coordinates close air support with an Apache AH-64 during a training mission at Camp Shelby, Jan. 18, 2019. Southern Strike 19 is a total force, multi-service training exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard's Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., and Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center near Hattiesburg, Miss. from Jan. 15 through Jan. 30, 2019. The exercise emphasizes air-to-air, air-to-ground and special operations forces training opportunities. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Senior Airman Kiara N. Spann/Released)
Senior Master Sgt. Jessie Jones, a 172d Airlift Wing accessory branch supervisor, is a veteran of Southern Strike and proud to see how the exercise has evolved over the years.
“At first we had just minimal participation. With every year that we’ve had it, we’ve had more of a Joint Force,” said Jones. “The scenario has become more real. We get to see how we work with the Army, Air Force, and Marines. There are other countries here and Special Forces. You don’t get see how the big picture comes in when you are back home, but here you do.”
Although participants help to design the training at Southern Strike, there are always a few surprises thrown in to teach military members the importance of adaptability.
“Overseas and when we’re actually doing it, it’s never what we planned. So it’s good to practice to go off script and try to do different things,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Howell of the 186th Air Refueling Wing. “Practicing here is good practice for the real world.”
Southern Strike 19 also included international military members from Canada, Chile, Netherlands and Uzbekistan. This year marked the first time Soldiers from Uzbekistan participated.