501 CSW, joint partners provide support for Operation Castle

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 501st Combat Support Wing, the 100th Air Refueling Wing, and their partners at RAF Brize Norton, trained together to strengthen Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operations through exercise Castle Forge, Nov. 1-5, 2021, at multiple locations across the United Kingdom and Europe.

Castle Forge is designed to provide a dynamic, partnership-focused environment that raises the U.S. commitment to collective defense in the Black Sea region while enhancing interoperability alongside NATO allies. Additionally, Castle Forge demonstrates the joint force’s combined ability to respond in times of crisis with a flexible, reassuring presence.

“The ACE concept is important because it keeps us agile and mobile,” said Col. Van Thai, 100th Operations Group commander, whose team from RAF Mildenhall rapidly deployed to RAF Fairford for training exercises during the week. “The objective is to synergize the fight where it needs to be by utilizing not only one base at a time, but the whole AOR [area of responsibility] and all the USAFE assets.”

Airmen and civilians from the 501st CSW supported various exercise operations. Many worked behind the scenes to host the exercise at RAF Fairford, a forward-operating location for units temporarily deployed from RAF Mildenhall.

“ACE is the future of the Air Force and it will help us become more agile and resilient,” said Tiffany Patrick, 501st CSW Plans and Programs ACE lead community planner. Patrick is the ACE lead for the 501st CSW, and she wrote the concept of operations for the wing’s involvement in the exercise. “This exercise demonstrates the agility of the Air Force and the ability to flex to support our NATO allies. ACE allows us to deter, defend and win across the spectrum of conflict, preparing for any fight any time. It’s not just air power. The combat support that the 501st provides allows the air power to be successful. Being strategically consistent and operationally agile will allow our forces to adapt to any situation.”

As a combat support wing, the 501st beds down and provides logistic support to training units from around the world that utilize its bases and flightline.

“It's broadening in new experiences and challenges that you don't see every day,” said Capt. Joseph Tomassi, 351st Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker pilot. 

Capt. Katharine Kopinski, 351st ARS pilot, has been flying the KC-135 for over a year. Exercises such as this continue to be valuable opportunities to build more resiliency in her capability and strengthen her joint operational knowledge.

“One of the challenging things about formation flying is not only are you dealing with all the changes, weather factors or clearances for your aircraft, but you're also keeping track of another aircraft and crew,” said Kopinski. “You have more people who can help or give their perspective if any issues arise, but it can definitely be an exercise on task management, to make sure that everyone's coordinated properly as a crew. We did a formation of aircraft to refuel a formation of bombers. We were all working together to make sure that we get our offload complete so they can go on to complete the rest of their mission.”