ØRLAND AIR BASE, Norway – The Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, also known as the MAINEiacs, and 265th Combat Communication Squadron are participating in the Arctic Challenge Exercise 2023 across the Nordic region.
The exercise, a multinational live-fly training event May 29 through June 9, involves multiple aircraft offering dozens of capabilities. The big players include fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, NATO Airborne Warning and Control System E-3s (AWACS), and the KC-135 Stratotanker.
Arctic Challenge enhances interoperability between the United States, allies and partners, solidifying an already strong bond against potential adversaries operating in the region.
Through months of cooperation with the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Maine’s “Pine Tree” Airmen adjusted quickly to the Arctic conditions, unpacking gear and establishing work zones for aircrew, maintenance, communications and the other necessary career fields to maintain the critical aerial refueling mission.
The geographically separated unit based in Portland, Maine, the 265th Combat Communication Squadron, set up field communications to provide internet access and radio capabilities.
The aircrew worked with the intelligence team to draw up flight plans and battle rhythms while maintenance ensured the jet was ready to go so mid-air refueling could happen without a hitch.
The MAINEiacs immediately initiated operational planning with teams from the 13 nations and NATO executing Arctic Challenge 2023. After a few days of preparation, the exercise began and the Airmen were ready to do what they do best — demonstrate what it means to be a world-class organization.
“Truthfully, it’s given me a completely different perspective to being in operations,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shelby Slaughter, a boom operator for the 101st Air Refueling Wing and a key staff member for Arctic Challenge. “The amount of planning and coordination that goes into something as large as this exercise is extraordinary and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.”
The Maine Air National Guard hosted dozens of local, regional and international media correspondents on a KC-135 media flight to demonstrate the U.S.’s ability to integrate with global allies and partners and increase coalition capabilities throughout the Arctic.
The Arctic is becoming an increasingly important focus area, and the exercise incorporates nearly every Arctic nation that relies on continued regional safety and security.
The ongoing conflict on NATO’s eastern flank highlights the need for greater defense cooperation in critical strategic areas.
The Maine National Guard partners with Montenegro through the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, and many states have developed relationships with two or more nations. The Minnesota National Guard recently partnered with Norway through the program.
The Maine Air National Guard is postured to operate in the cold and harsh conditions of the Arctic as many Airmen recently graduated from the Extreme Cold Weather Survival Course and routinely support allied and coalition aerial refueling efforts across the High North. The 265th CBCS completed similar cold weather training in January, increasing the readiness of their globally separated unit in southern Maine.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Alfiero, the U.S. air-to-air refueling liaison officer and Arctic challenge detachment commander, coordinated operations for the exercise for over a year with Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian allies and partners.
“Our credibility is what sets us apart. The MAINEiacs have a long tradition of doing the right thing and getting the job done,” Alfiero says.
As the sole Air National Guard participant in the exercise, the MAINEiacs set a high standard for all U.S. forces conducting operations throughout the region.
“We’ve demonstrated our capabilities and built credibility with our fellow Arctic States, opening the door to other events that will continue to build on our reputation as the premier Arctic Tanker unit of the North,” Alfiero said.
Arctic Challenge hosted nearly 150 aircraft from 13 nations and NATO across the three Scandinavian countries.
The Air National Guard provides critical rotational forces throughout Europe. Arctic Challenge is one of many engagement opportunities for the global Total Force.
The exercise leads into the German-led Air Defender 2023, the largest air defense exercise in mainland Europe since the end of World War II. The National Guard Bureau will deploy units from multiple states to support the operation, highlighting the Total Force’s ability to provide combat-ready forces anytime, anywhere.