WUNSTORF AIR BASE, Germany – The Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing is leading C-130 Hercules aircraft operations at the largest NATO multinational air forces redeployment exercise in history.
Air Defender 2023 began June 12 and continues through June 23. The exercise integrates U.S. and allied air power to defend shared values while leveraging and strengthening vital partnerships to deter aggression around the world.
According to the National Guard Bureau, approximately 2,600 U.S. Airmen and 100 aircraft from 42 states have descended on Western Europe to train with 24 allied and partner nations to enhance joint capabilities.
Exercise AD23 provides opportunities to bolster the tactical interoperability skills of participating international partners, aircrew, and supporting elements within a composite air operation environment, according to NATO.
A vital element of AD23 is the C-130 Hercules airlift, led by the 182nd AW.
“Air Defender is testing NATO’s strength in deterrence,” said Maj. Joseph Chambers, the chief of tactics for the 182nd Operations Support Squadron and the lead C-130 Hercules at Wunstorf Air Base. “And the Air National Guard is reassuring our allies of the U.S. resolve to the NATO charter.”
Over 440 Airmen from multiple states and Puerto Rico are serving at Wunstorf Air Base during AD23. The 182nd AW is sharing the sky with nine C-130 Hercules and Super Hercules units from Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Texas and Wyoming.
Chambers began planning for AD23 in July. Though the C-130 mission is the primary objective at Wunstorf Air Base, it was not Chambers’s only aim for this exercise.
“As the lead planner and lead C-130 unit, we had the job to coordinate for 12 different Air National Guard units,” said Chambers. “We also are supporting the Joint Tactical Air Control and Combat Communications missions at Air Defender 23.”
Exercise AD23 will enable Airmen to apply their multicapable Airmen skills through interactive training with personnel from various wings and career fields, along with NATO and state-partner militaries. Airmen operating at Wunstorf Air Base integrated with airmen from Germany, Romania and Lithuania performing full-scale readiness training and completing their mission-essential tasks.
A primary component of exercise AD23 is the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The SPP has been successfully building relations for 30 years and now includes 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the world.
“Relationships in the ANG are like water to a fish; one can’t operate without the other,” said Col. Rusty Ballard, the commander of the 182nd AW and the C-130 detachment component commander during AD23 at Wunstorf Air Base. “The exchange of information, tactics, techniques, procedures, ideas and history will forever benefit the allied NATO countries involved in this massive exercise.”
The SPP engagements capitalize on the MCA concept while enabling Air National Guardsmen to train and learn from partner nations. The Air National Guard’s focus is to prepare mission-ready Airmen to safeguard the U.S. homeland and execute global operations.
U.S. Air Force units, including the 182nd, regularly participate in multinational exercises on the European continent to strengthen relations and resolve. That frequent interaction sets the stage, allowing stateside Air National Guard units to integrate with allies and partners throughout the region.
The 182nd AW has been cited for multiple readiness awards. As a prominent leader in the C-130 community, Ballard was excited to bring the unit’s ready and postured forces to the warfighting training environment.
“As soon as the 182nd found out about the exercise and its intent, we jumped on as the lead unit,” said Ballard. “The opportunity for the 182nd to showcase our capabilities amongst the community has been even better than I could have imagined.”