Soldiers from across Fort Campbell synchronized efforts Feb. 7 during Operation Swift Eagle, a joint forcible entry exercise, simulating multidomain operations to build readiness to face near-peer adversaries in future conflicts.
The future operational environment of the U.S. armed forces is complex, containing adaptive adversaries that will challenge the nation’s forces in all realms. Air and land superiority are not guaranteed in this environment, as near-peer adversaries are capable of limiting access and freedom of maneuver in contested areas.
To address these challenges, Joint Pub 3-18, Joint Forcible Entry states a JFE aims to seize a lodgment in a hostile operational area as quickly as possible to increase maneuverability and facilitate future operations through the continuous inflow of troops and supplies.
The operation was an absolute team effort involving units throughout the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Alabama Air National Guard and the Air Force.
Operation Swift Eagle began as a combined arms live-fire exercise but quickly developed into a JFE as hundreds of Soldiers from multiple units across the division and the Air Force came together to synchronize training, expertise and lethality. It also served as the culmination of eight months of large-scale air assault training for the 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Abn. Div.
Lieutenant Colonel John Gunter, commander of 6th Bn., 101st CAB, and his team worked tirelessly to facilitate this complex training exercise and to ensure all units were aware of their role in the planning process.
“We developed this scenario over the course of a year, pulling in assets from across the military to create a mutually supportive training event,” Gunter said. “As the premier air assault organization in the Army, we aimed to drive readiness across field artillery, infantry and aviation units.”
The exercise provided an opportunity for all participating units to integrate joint fires into a complicated scheme of maneuver, supported by both air and ground military assets. This unique opportunity allowed units to synchronize mission planning processes, down to the verbiage used by each organization.
Captain Justin Dixon, an F-16 pilot with 100th Fighter Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, integrated aircraft capabilities between fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
“AH-64s can guide a fighter jet’s bombs, but the tactic is rarely trained,” Dixon said. “We were able to conduct these remote-lasing procedures to guide the bombs we dropped, which is significant.”
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, commanded by Lt. Col. James Stultz, were one of the primary ground units supported during the exercise. The Rakkasans leveraged the training as a rare opportunity to enhance their skills in air assault operations.
“Operation Swift Eagle was a readiness producing exercise for our unit, as we maintain readiness for contingency operations as a regionally aligned force,” Stultz said. “Air assault operations are something you need to exercise or you lose the small pieces like pickup zone control and air movement plans.”
Four CH-47F Chinooks and five UH-60M Black Hawks from the 101st CAB massed combat power by air assaulting more than 300 personnel into the area of operations during the exercise.
Captain Kyle Amonson, commander of the CH-47F Chinook Company, B Co., 6th Bn., 101st CAB, takes pride in delivering combat power to an objective rapidly, with extreme precision.
“As one of the world’s foremost power projection platforms, our ability to rapidly deploy ground forces by air is what directly enables the 101st Abn. Div. to provide an unmatched capability for joint forcible entry,” Amonson said. “The Chinook and the Black Hawk are vital to delivering our Soldiers to the target area rapidly and safely.”
The training proved to be an invaluable experience for all units involved. Soldiers from more than a dozen units learned about capabilities and limitations across warfighting functions and joint force.
Without a doubt Operation Swift Eagle increased joint readiness across services, components, and across the combined arms community, said Col. Matthew Weinshel, commander of the 101st CAB.
“We trained hundreds of Soldiers and Airmen on how to interoperate our capabilities, limitations, and perspectives on training and planning,” Weinshel said. “We proved our ability to interoperate with ground forces, artillery, Army Aviation, Special Operations Force and the U.S. Air Force across all of the warfighting functions in an exercise that included live maneuver and fires.”
As a testament to the complexity of this operation, Operation Swift Eagle was the first joint exercise at Fort Campbell since 2016 that has used fixed-wing close air support. Maj. Luke Fekete, a member of the Tactical Air Control Party, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, found great value in the training event.
“The TACP doctrinally does not align with combat aviation units, and this exercise afforded us a unique aviation-centric perspective through the deliberate air assault planning process,” Fekete said. “This exercise gave us an opportunity to develop and improve range processes that will help set conditions for future close air support training at Fort Campbell.”