Air Force Featured Stories

182nd Airlift Wing leads C-130 Hercules operations at NATO’s Air Defender 2023

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Paul Helmig
  • 182nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The largest NATO multinational air forces redeployment exercise in history began at Wunstorf Air Base, June 12, with the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing leading the C-130 Hercules aircraft operations. 
 
Exercise Air Defender 2023, which continues through June 23, integrates both U.S. and allied airpower 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 rapidly descended on western Europe to train with 24 allied and partner nations to enhance joint capabilities around the globe.  
 
Exercise AD23 provides valuable opportunities to bolster tactical interoperability skills of participating international partners, aircrew and supporting elements within a composite air operation environment, according to NATO. 
 
A vital element within AD23 is the C-130 airlift operation, led by the 182nd AW Maj. Joseph Chambers, 182nd Operations Support Squadron chief of tactics, explained, the unit's participation is a display of commitment reinforcing relations between militaries, and their readiness to defeat hostility toward the U.S. and their partner nations. 
 
“Air Defender is testing NATO’s strength in deterrence,” Chambers said. “The Air National Guard is reassuring our allies of the U.S. resolve to the NATO charter.” 
 
More than 440 Airmen from 11 states and Puerto Rico are serving at Wunstorf AB during the exercise. The 182nd AW is sharing the sky with nine different C-130 Hercules and Super Hercules units from Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Texas and Wyoming. 
 
Chambers began operations planning for AD23 nearly 11 months prior to the start of the exercise in July 2022. Though the C-130 mission is the primary objective at Wunstorf AB, it was not Chambers’ 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,” Chambers said. “We also are supporting the Joint Tactical Air Control and Combat Communications missions at Air Defender 23.” 
 
AD23 will provide Airmen the opportunity to apply their multi-capable Airmen skills through interactive training with personnel from various wings and career fields, along with NATO and state-partner militaries. Airmen operating at Wunstorf AB 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 NGB’s State Partnership Program that has been successfully building relations for 30 years, including 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, 182nd AW commander and C-130 detachment component commander. “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 Guardsmen to train and learn from partner nations. The ANG’s focus is to prepare mission-ready Airmen to safeguard the U.S. homeland and execute global operations successfully. 
 
U.S. Air Force units, including the 182nd AW, regularly participate in multinational exercises on the European continent to strengthen relations and resolve. That frequent interaction sets the stage, allowing stateside ANG units to more easily integrate with allies and partners throughout the region. 
 
The 182nd AW has been cited for multiple readiness awards, such as maintaining the highest C-130 mission capability rate since 2015. As a prominent leader within 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,” Ballard said. “The opportunity for the 182nd to showcase our capabilities amongst the community has been even better than I could have imagined.”