183d Air Operations Group Aids In Coalition Exercise Success

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tanner Lovett
  • 183d Wing
Members of the 183d Air Operations Group (AOG) played an integral role in the success of Exercise PANAMAX 2022. PANAMAX is a large, joint and multinational exercise that focuses on ensuring the free flow of commerce through the Panama Canal. The exercise, in which a fictional Central American country is threatened by a violent extremist organization, involved over 1,500 U.S. military personnel and nearly 500 security personnel from 19 partner nations. The 183 AOG had 68 members participate in 3 different locations: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and the Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Virginia.
Most of the team participated from the 12th Air Force Headquarters and the 612th Air Operations Center (AOC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where the 183d is no stranger.
“The 183d is the designated augmentation unit for the 12th, so we are their first phone call whenever additional manpower or expertise is needed,” says Lt Col Matthew Cain, Deputy Commander of the AOG, “That makes exercises like this even more important, because in addition to getting better at our jobs, it’s a chance to build relationships with our counterparts here at Davis-Monthan. It allows us to jump right in when something like a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes the region.”
The 183 AOG was joined by the 183d Wing Commander, Colonel Robert Gellner. Colonel Gellner’s role in the exercise was the Crisis Action Team (CAT) Director. The CAT is made up of highly experienced staff from every skillset in the Air Force that can quickly figure out solutions to complex problems, ensuring the Air Force Forces are sustained throughout an entire operation. This was Colonel Gellner’s first time participating in the exercise, and he was very impressed.
"It was a great experience to see firsthand the amazing talent the 183d Air Operations Group team has. They were able to seamlessly integrate within their assigned positions while also strengthening partnerships with AFSOUTH, the 612 AOC, and regional allies and partners that attended PANAMAX. I continue to be impressed by the capabilities of our Airmen in the CAOC and AFFOR staff functions. Their vast experience allows them to share critical knowledge with their Active Duty counterparts, and it was an honor to be a part of this exceptional team."
The 183 AOG was also joined by the 183 AOG Commander, Colonel Nicolas Henschel. His role in the exercise was AOC Director, ensuring the Command and Control headquarters for all Coalition air assets ran efficiently and effectively. This allowed the Coalition Forces Air Component Commander, played in the exercise by a Colombian Air Force General, to focus on making command decisions with current, correct and relevant information.
“This was a great opportunity for the 183 AOG to practice our mission alongside colleagues from the 612 AOC and with partners from several South American countries. This large-scale exercise allowed the team to sharpen their skills and build multinational/joint experience that will support our role as preeminent C2 force providers.”
Unlike other exercises that feature “boots on the ground” and actual aircraft flying overhead, PANAMAX is a Command Post Exercise, which trains commanders and headquarter teams, and therefore is computer simulated. This allows for very specific and controlled problems, or “injects” as they’re known in the exercise, to occur that stress and test the exercise participants at the right time for the greatest effect. It also has the benefit of saving millions of dollars on the exercise. For example, four members of the 183 AOG helped manage the injects in the “Exercise Control Group” by “playing” dozens of roles in different smaller units in the operation.
This enables realistic training for all participants. One example is from a small group from the 183 AOG supported the Multinational Forces-South (MNF-S) from Fort Sam Houston in Texas. One of their tasks was to maintain accountability, command and control of a notional force of over 38,000 people supporting the operation. The Exercise Control Group provided all the responses so it appeared, to the training audience, that there were 38,000 people deployed for the operation, when the reality was fewer than 500 people were actually playing all the roles.