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First all-Reserve AEW stands up for Patriot Fury in Peru

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Bob Jennings
  • 64th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

CHICLAYO, Peru – Integrity, service, and excellence. These are the core values that have driven generations of American Airpower. They’re also posted over the entrance to the personnel section just off the flight line at Chiclayo Air Base, Peru.

In late June, 2023 a contingency response team, a group of Airmen specifically tasked with setting up an airfield, landed at Chiclayo and began to establish the basis of what would be required to stand up the first entirely U.S. Air Force Reserve air expeditionary wing (AEW), which operated out of three locations in Peru.

The 64 AEW, led by Col. Mike Leonas from the 442d Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., operated for a month headquartered at Chiclayo – with satellite locations in Lima and El Pato Air Base, Peru – for Patriot Fury, a sub-exercise wrapped into the multi-national exercise Resolute Sentinel ’23.

In addition to being Air Force Reserve Command’s first AEW, the wing stood up under the new Air Force Force Generation model. The AFFORGEN model, rather than a traditional wing-group-squadron organization, uses an A-Staff, which gathers functions that support decision making directly under the wing commander to improve cross-functional communication and better integrate with similarly-structured joint force partners.

The wing used hangars and office space provided by Fuerza Aerea del Peru (FAP) at all three locations, sometimes working hand-in-hand with their host-nation counterparts.

U.S. Air Force firefighters provided aircraft and structural fire fighting training to both the FAP and the local civilian airport firefighters, and a group of U.S. medical personnel spent some time assisting at a local hospital.

In addition to testing out the AEW A-Staff structure, Patriot Fury focused on Agile Combat Employment (ACE), a concept of operations under which forces are built to be mobile and flexible, providing more options for joint force commanders. To make ACE work with the smallest possible footprint, AFRC encourages the development of multi-capable Airmen – that is, Airmen who are willing and able to step into multiple roles, often outside the career field they initially trained in. These personnel form a cross-functional team, accomplishing mission objectives in an expeditionary environment supporting ACE force elements.

The ramp at Chiclayo AFB was a constant hub-and-spoke with aerial porters, logistics officers, and others lining up to learn how to marshal an aircraft into its parking spot or providing their first salute to a pilot taking off for a sortie. MCA didn’t stop there. Senior Airman Derek Delgado, a traffic management office technician deployed from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, stepped up to be the wing’s vehicle NCO when there was no cargo to move. Delgado used his Spanish fluency to coordinate transportation to and from the base via a local contractor.

It wasn’t just the Airmen taking on multiple roles, though. American aircraft depend on Jet-A fuel with certain additives to keep their engines in prime operating condition. They can use other fuel – or fuel without the additives – with a waiver, but it’s not ideal. In the U.S., every base has access to properly-mixed Jet-A. It’s not always so easy in other countries. To get around that, petroleum, oils, and lubricants troops defueled the C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft that stopped in Chiclayo and used that fuel for A-10 missions, not only building flexibility for combat missions, but effectively turning any aircraft with extra gas into a fuel source.

“Everything we’re doing here is ACE,” Leonas said multiple times while recognizing outstanding performers throughout the deployment. “We’re doing things that have never been done before.”

When not sitting at Chiclayo getting their tanks siphoned, Reserve airlift crews hauled personnel and equipment into and around the theater, ensuring people and equipment were in the right place at the right time to make the mission happen. Overall, cargo aircraft deployed from 10 units carried 468 personnel and 255 short tons of cargo over 26 missions.

It was the A-10s, however, that really put the “Fury” into Patriot Fury. Four “Warthogs” deployed from the 47th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., flew a total of 71.6 hours over 37 sorties – the first. A-10 pilots deployed from multiple AFRC units flew close air support and combat search and rescue missions with Peruvian pilots who flew SU-25 attack aircraft and KT-1 light attack aircraft.

“It was really great to be able to have that experience,” said Maj. Charles “Halo” Phelps, the A-10 pilot who flew the first A-10 sortie ever out of South America. Phelps was deployed to Chiclayo from the 442 FW.

The point of the exercise, though, was not to see how well reservists could operate out of an established airfield like Chiclayo. The point was to text Airmen’s flexibility and adaptability in austere conditions. On three separate missions, a C-130 loaded up equipment and personnel and flew them to El Pato AFB, where A-10s had stopped for forward-area refueling point and integrated combat turn operations (FARP).

During FARP operations, POL troops with the special qualification attach a fuel hose to a C-130 and run it directly to a waiting A-10. After gas is transferred directly from aircraft to aircraft, the A-10 pulls away and parks for an ICT, during which weapons loaders replenish its stock of munitions while the engines are running with the goal of completing the entire operation in under 30 minutes.

There was a lot of work to be done, but the Airmen made sure to find time to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Fuerza Aerea del Peru. On July 14, 64 AEW members attended a ceremony celebrating the success of Resolute Sentinel ’23 and leaders from both the U.S. and Peruvian Air Forces, including 10th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Bryan Radliff and the Chief of the Combined Forces of Peru, shared a toast to their partnership, swapping war stories and patches to cement the relationship in true Airman style.

“When I look around here, I don’t just see multi-capable Airmen,” Radliff said during his visit to Chiclayo. “I see ‘very-capable’ Airmen.”

Then, on July 18, Grupo Aereo No. 6 invited the 64 AEW to play a friendly game of soccer. It was a hard-fought game, but the Peruvians eventually triumphed. After a round of warm handshakes, Leonas presented the winning team with a replica A-10 bullet.

From shared values, to a mutual love of intramural sports, to a dedication to airpower, Patriot Fury didn’t just prove the flexibility and expertise of the USAF Reserve. It proved that, no matter where you go, Airmen have the skills necessary to operate successfully in contested, degraded, and operationally limited environments with minimal support. AFRC continues to prove that we are light, lean, agile, and bold and as we train, we will continue to rapidly execute operations from various locations with integrated capabilities and interoperability across the core functions.