MAINEiacs Aim High during Arctic Challenge

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Andrew Sinclair
  • 101st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

ØRLAND AIR BASE, Norway – The Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, also known as the MAINEiacs, and 265th Combat Communication Squadron aimed for the clouds and headed Northeast to take part in the Arctic Challenge Exercise 2023, occurring May 29 through June 9 across the Nordic region.

The exercise, a multi-national live-fly training event, involves multiple aircraft offering dozens of capabilities. The big players being fourth and fifth-generation fighters, NATO Airborne Warning and Control System E-3s (AWACS), and of course, the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Arctic Challenge enhances interoperability between the U.S., Allies, and Partners, solidifying an already strong bond between Allies against potential adversaries operating in the region. The High North is a key strategic location and conducting exercises like these proves a stronger, more prepared coalition force – ready for anything.

Through months of cooperation with the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the MAINEiacs landed and hit the ground running, received in briefs, and settled into host nation-coordinated living quarters. Being 40 degrees cooler than it was back home, Maine’s “Pine Tree” Airmen adjusted quickly to the Arctic conditions and got right to work unpacking gear and establishing work zones for aircrew, maintenance, communications, and all the other necessary career fields to maintain the critical aerial refueling mission.

The geographically-separated unit based in Portland, Maine, the 265th Combat Communication Squadron, set up field communications to provide internet access and radio capabilities by doing what they do best – adapting and overcoming.

The aircrew immediately began working with the intelligence team to start drawing up flight plans and battle rhythms while maintenance ensured the jet was ready to go so mid-air refueling could happen without a hitch. The whole process was like a well-oiled machine following years of professionalized engagements globally through the State Partnership Program, contingency support, and operational deployments.

The MAINEiacs immediately initiated operational planning with teams from the 13 nations and NATO executing Arctic Challenge 2023. After a few days of preparation and coordination, the exercise kicked off and the Airmen were ready to do what they do best; demonstrating what it means to be a world-class organization.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shelby Slaughter, a Boom Operator for the 101st Air Refueling Wing and a key staff member for Arctic Challenge says, “Truthfully, it’s given me a completely different perspective to being in operations. The amount of planning and coordination that goes into something as large as this exercise is extraordinary and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.”

As a junior boom operator, this is Slaughter’s first time in a lead planning role. Her duties working in the Mission Planning Cell played an integral role in coordinating international refueling operations. She also had a few chances to break away and fly to refuel aircraft taking part in the exercise, getting a chance to collaborate with coalition partners in the High North.

The Maine Air National Guard hosted dozens of local, regional, and international media correspondents on a KC-135 media flight to demonstrate the U.S.’s ability to integrate with global Allies and Partners and increase coalition capabilities throughout the Arctic.

BBC Defense correspondent, Jonathan Beale, attended the media flight saying, “One of the things I always get from a tanker is the complexity of it.” He continued, “It can literally load quite a few jets up with fuel so they can carry out their missions. Shocking!”

“There’s quite a bit more to it than people realize,” Beale continued. “The boom operator is writing out calculations on the window trying to figure it all out while the pilots up front are maintaining a set speed with the formation behind them, it’s really fascinating.”

The U.S. and coalition forces demonstrate the joint force’s ability to execute strategically and tactically. The Arctic is becoming an increasingly important focus area, and the exercise incorporates nearly every Arctic nation who relies on continued regional safety and security.

The ongoing conflict on NATO’s Eastern Flank highlights the need for greater defense cooperation in critical strategic areas. Beale noted the Nordic coalition demonstrated “true air power” in ways U.S. adversaries have not been able to execute.

The Maine National Guard currently partners with Montenegro through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, and many states have developed relationships with two or more nations. The Minnesota National Guard recently partnered with Norway through the program.

The Maine Air National Guard is postured to operate in the cold and harsh conditions of the Arctic as many Airmen recently graduated from the Extreme Cold Weather Survival Course and routinely support Allied and coalition aerial refueling efforts across the High North. The 265th CBCS completed similar cold weather training in January, increasing their individual readiness for their globally separated unit in southern Maine.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Alfiero, the U.S. Air-to-Air Refueling Liaison Officer and Arctic Challenge Detachment Commander, has been coordinating operations for the exercise for over a year with Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian Allies and Partners.

“Our credibility is what sets us apart, the MAINEiacs have a long tradition of doing the right thing and getting the job done,” Alfiero says. “You can’t have confidence and credibility without experience and we build on our experiences by leading the way as the sole state ANG units here, illustrating our commitment to the High North and building professional relationships with our neighbors to the North.”

Alfiero’s pride and commitment to the mission is evident in his passion for what he does. He says, “I’m proud, impressed, excited and humbled. We use metrics of performance and our members crushed all our desired learning objectives and exercise requirements. I am impressed with the growth and learning of my members that took place - watching all of them build upon their crafts and specialties while developing new tactics, techniques and procedures to bring home to our cohorts allowing Maine to lead the way in the Arctic.”

As the sole Air National Guard participant in the exercise, the MAINEiacs set a high standard for all U.S. forces conducting operations throughout the region, which translates into the professionalism and expertise expected for all rotational forces throughout the U.S. European Command’s theater of operations.

Alfiero continued to say “We’ve demonstrated our capabilities and built credibility with our fellow Arctic States, opening the door to other events that will continue to build on our reputation as the premier Arctic Tanker unit of the North.”

Arctic Challenge hosted nearly 150 aircraft from 13 nations and NATO across the three Scandinavian countries. The MAINEiac brand of excellence and commitment strengthens bonds and forms new friendships.

The Air National Guard provides critical rotational forces throughout Europe. Arctic Challenge is one of many engagement opportunities for the global Total Force.

The exercise leads into the German-led Air Defender 2023, the largest air defense exercise in mainland Europe since the end of World War II. The National Guard Bureau will deploy units from several states to support the major operation, highlighting the Total Force’s ability to provide combat-ready forces anytime, anywhere.