KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
The Korean Peninsula and the U.S. bases which help make up its combined defense posture feature prominently in worldwide headlines, given current tensions.
For U.S. air power on the Peninsula, the recent news focused on military postures and readiness to strike at a moment’s notice hits on a posture that is not new for the Airmen who validate the U.S. Pacific Air Forces motto: Fight Tonight.
For those in the military, it is an old muscle memory.
"Exercising the Wolf Pack as realistically as possible develops us into the mission-ready warfighters the Air Component Commander and Combined Forces Commander need and expect," said Col. David Shoemaker, 8th Fighter Wing commander. "The whole 'you train how you fight' mentality is arguably more important here than anywhere else in the world, because our Airmen may be expected to go from zero to one hundred in a matter of minutes. We can't afford to allow our skills to atrophy—we must always be ready. There's just too much at stake to expect otherwise."
The most recent operational exercise at Kunsan Air Base, Beverly Pack 18-1, took place from Oct. 10-14, 2017 and tested the instillation’s service members and their capacity to operate under combat scenarios relevant to the Korean Peninsula and PACAF writ large. Additionally, they verified their equipment and weapons systems could operate at various levels of stress and degradation.
As an Air Force Major Command, PACAF rests in one of the most diverse and expansive areas of the world, covering 52 percent of the globe. With the largest area of responsibility of any other major command, it depends on the readiness of its operational wings and their ability to prove themselves in real scenarios, ensuring the command lives up to its motto.
“We make sure we exercise, not just in the number of exercises we do, but having very high-end exercises that allow us to really wring out our Airmen and make sure we’re giving them the toughest threats to fight and train against,” said Gen. Terrance J. O’Shaughnessy, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, in a recent interview.
Wolf Pack “Fights Tonight"
During Beverly Pack 18-1, the Wolf Pack proved its ability to “Fight Tonight”, by launching combat sorties on a continuous basis in support of an air tasking order developed for the exercise.
It’s these sorties, flown by U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, frequently referred to as Vipers, which enable the wing to live up to its localized mission to “Take the Fight North.”
Though the media environment recently adjusted its focus to the combat readiness of U.S. forces on the Peninsula, units like the Wolf Pack maintain a posture that dates back to the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War and is aligned with President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense, James Mattis’s vision for the Peninsula.
“President Trump's guidance to both Secretary Tillerson and me has been very clearly that we would pursue the diplomatic effort [with North Korea], to include the various initiatives with China, and to ensure that we pushed on sanctions, economic sanctions designed to keep this in the diplomatic framework for moving forward,” Mattis stated in a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
He then acknowledged, “it is a dynamic balance, as we try to go forward with a solution but at the same time ensure that we have military options.”
As such, the current atmosphere is one in which the military, to include Kunsan, maintains its combat readiness in case it is ever called upon.
Enabling the Fight
Many factors play into the successful generation of combat aircraft, and those don’t end at the flight line.
The “Defend the Base” and “Accept Follow-on Forces” missions of the Wolf Pack rely on the service members operating outside of flight operations to ensure the integrity of the base from opposing forces and to amplify the effectiveness of the installation to project power.
To verify the capabilities of these aspects of the Wolf Pack’s mission, base personnel were tested through various scenarios ranging from perimeter attacks to mass casualties, air attacks to unexploded ordnance and chemical warfare to relocation operations.
While confirming one’s mission effectiveness in Mission Oriented Protective Poster level four, or MOPP 4, isn’t the most interesting time, it is a vital part to Airmen and Soldiers on base defending against attacks and enabling forces in support of Combined Forces Command wartime needs.
As the final moments of the exercise wound down, a definitive atmosphere among the Airmen and Soldiers on base was palpable.
"I can tell you, in my third Kunsan tour with dozens of full-scale exercises under my belt, the energy in this exercise was superb," said Shoemaker. “The Wolf Pack’s leader-Airmen found comprehensive, cross-functional, wing-wide solutions to difficult scenarios under physically challenging conditions. Most importantly, Airmen weren't focused on when the exercise would end, when they could get back to their day-to-day roles. They were out there planning and executing to the final exercise inject. That's what I expect from professionals who know and care about their wartime mission in the Air Force’s tightest-knit, most combat-focused fighter wing."