Airmen, soldiers sharpen skills on Korean Peninsula among rising tensions
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 21, 2017
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The Air Force and Army honed their warfighting skills on the Korean Peninsula this week, conducting a pair of exercises as Washington and Pyongyang traded barbs at the United Nations.
At Osan, the Air Force held the wing-wide operational readiness Beverly Herd drills that end Friday. The Army’s Warrior Strike, a battalion readiness exercise for the 2nd Infantry Division’s rotational brigade, wrapped up on Wednesday at Rodriguez Live Fire Range near the Demilitarized Zone.
The drills went on as President Donald Trump, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.” The North’s foreign minister likened the statement to “the sound of a dog barking.”
Maj. Gary Glojek, the 51st Fighter Wing inspector general, said more than 3,000 personnel, including servicemembers from Alaska and Kunsan Air Base, participated in the Osan exercise, which involved night sorties and simulated chemical missile attacks on the base.
Current events didn’t factor into the timing of drills, he said.
“This exercise was not held because of recent actions in North Korea,” Glojek said. “We train regularly to defend, execute and sustain in a threat environment.”
But with more than 100 sorties a day, Beverly Herd gave pilots like Capt. Tyler Holley, 30, of Jacksonville, Fla., plenty of time to practice against a potential clash with the North.
“We’re working on how to kill targets more effectively,” said Holley, who flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II for the 25th Fighter Squadron. Also known as a Warthog, the attack jet was designed around a massive nose cannon that’s famous for the buzz it makes when fired.
There was a lot of jet traffic on Osan’s runways during the exercise, he said.
“We’ve gone at more of a real-world op tempo,” Holley added.
Senior Airman Thomas Cortinas, a crew chief, sweated in protective gear as he helped guide Holley’s jet back to its hangar and prepare for another mission.
Cortinas’ suit is designed to minimize the effect of North Korea’s chemical weapons.
“This is my first exercise in full [protective gear], said the 23-year-old Chicagoan. “It’s challenging working 12-hour shifts - heavy, hot and exhausting.“
Sirens going off on the base during the training gave the mission a sense of urgency, Cortinas said.
“This exercise gets me ready for what can happen,” he said.