By By Maj. Kevin Hynes, Nebraska National Guard
/ Published May 29, 2008
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- -- When it comes to teamwork, the members of the Air Force's 55th Wing and the Nebraska Air National Guard's 170th Group have rewritten quite a few chapters during the past five years that the Guard organization has been working with the active Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base.
Recently, the Offutt organizations added another chapter to their teamwork manual when the two units overcame a severe winter storm to successfully complete an Air Combat Command operational readiness inspection, Feb. 4-9.
According to Col. Rob Maness, 55th Wing vice commander, it took the efforts of both organizations to overcome the bitter, snowy weather to score well during the inspection that looked at the both organizations' ability to mobilize Airmen and generate aircraft for a full-scale deployment.
"The IG team that came out here will tell you - especially their maintenance team members will tell you - that they had not seen an ORI conducted under such difficult conditions ever," said Maness, adding that members of the 170th Group provided a calming influence during an important portion of the inspection.
"The Guard members' experience level out on the flight line in the middle of a snow storm when we were trying to generate the right amount of aircraft in a limited amount of time under the rules of the IG to satisfy that grading requirement was key to success... and I mean key to the success because it could've been either success or failure but for some very experienced Guard members," said Maness.
Maness said it was extremely important for the 55th Wing and 170th Group to do well during the ORI for a number of reasons. First, he said, the ORI tests whether an organization is following the various regulations and guidance that govern how an Air Force unit conducts operations. It also ensures that unit members are receiving the appropriate training and support they need to successfully deploy to a contingency operation.
Second, he said, it forces a unit to look outside of its current operational schedule to see how well it can support a possible 'big war' mission.
"The Air Force is in this steady state of what I call small-war-mindedness," said Maness. "And it's doing very well at supporting our ground forces that are engaged around the world and providing what we provide here: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance around the world in support of the War on Terrorism."
"But, if there was a big war that occurred, we still have to be prepared to do that," he said. "And this ORI is about testing our capability of generating our aircraft and deploying them in support of a larger war effort than what we do day-to-day."
According to Lt. Col. Mark White, commander of the 170th Group, the 170th participated in a number of ways.
First, the unit provided a number of deployers, which consisted of Airmen who were scheduled to actually deploy overseas on a 60-day real world mission to Southwest Asia during the ORI time period. It also provided a number of IG-tasked unit members who simply went through the administrative steps associated with deploying without actually leaving Offutt.
Second, Guard aircrews worked closely with 55th Wing maintenance teams to generate and mobilize the aircraft that were being inspected. Additionally, a number of Nebraska Air Guardsmen served in several key positions on the 55th Wing battle staff including intelligence and weather.
"As a matter of fact," said White, "Senior Airman Tony Whitfeld was a superior performer as part of the intelligence analysis team."
Another Air Guardsman mentioned by name was Senior Master Sgt. Laura Liedke, who was lauded for her work in airfield operations by optimizing the snow removal plan to keep critical airfield areas cleared.
In order to prepare for the ORI, White said, the organization began making preparations back in July, within days of gaining formal group status.
White said the organization had to overcome a number of challenges to make sure it was ready.
One of the first had to deal with how members of the 170th prepare to deploy.
White said the 170th has been deploying Airmen overseas with the 55th Wing since the unit first organized at Offutt in 2002. However, unlike the Offutt-based active duty Airmen, members of the 170th Group receive their administrative, medical and logistical support from the 155th Air Refueling Wing in Lincoln.
"We've done this many times, but one challenge -like in any inspection with an IG looking over your shoulder - was to make sure that you've got your processes codified and you've got them what-iffed," White said.
Another challenge for both the 170th Group and members of the IG team, said White, was how to apply an Air Combat Command Inspection to a unit that receives its administrative support from an Air Mobility Command unit.
"An ACC inspection team doesn't realistically go look at an AMC wing," said White. "We were only the second unit that ACC has ever inspected like this and the first one was done right at the beginning of December... so that was a little bit of a learning experience not only for us as a unit, but also for the inspection team as well."
Maness agreed that the unusual nature of the 55th Wing, where an Air Guard group is blended throughout its operations group and provides a high level of experience and stability, gave the organization an opportunity to show-case the unique level of Total Force cooperation currently underway at Offutt.
"It was a chance for us to educate the Air Combat Command IG team and their members on how the Air National Guard in Nebraska functions," he said. "And it was also an opportunity for us to showcase here as a team how the Nebraska Air National Guard supports the 55th Wing and the 170th, who are in Air Combat Command."
"I look at this as a big deal because it really highlights the teamwork that occurs here on a daily basis," Maness added.
"I'm very proud to say that this is my first experience with the Total Force Integration Initiative like this. The 55th Wing and the 170th Group and Offutt Air Force Base and the Air National Guard relationship in Nebraska is unique because its one of the first of its kind where, unless their nametags are different, you can't tell if it's an Air National Guard crew member of an active Air Force crew member when you're out on the line flying a jet." Overall, both White and Maness said they were extremely pleased with how well the team worked together to receive outstanding grades from the ACC inspection team.
According to published reports, the 55th Wing and 170th Group received outstanding ratings in 71 percent of the inspected areas.
White added that he's equally appreciative of the support the 170th received from the 155th ARW during its preparations.
"The teamwork that we had with (the 155th) was very important for our ORI to be successful," White said. "In a way, although they didn't get a formal grade and they weren't particularly looked at by the IG team, they were on call. The light was on for us from the 155th to be able to go make sure that our people got the mobility processing done, the medical clearing, the supplies that we needed to go."
"We're a team here with the active duty," said White. "But we're also a team with Lincoln and the 155th. And that really worked out well."