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Team Shaw sharpens Mission-Ready Airmen at Iron Hand 24-03

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Dallin Wrye
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Team Shaw conducted exercise Iron Hand 24-03, deploying 94 members from the 20th Fighter Wing on a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 15th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, to North Auxiliary Airfield. to participate alongside four F-16C Fighting Falcons, assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 13, 2024.
Iron Hand is a week-long exercise focused on enhancing combat readiness and operational proficiency. The exercise simulates real-world scenarios, preparing Airmen for a variety of potential conflicts.
“It is one of our two large-scale readiness exercises that the 20th Fighter Wing conducts each year,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jordan “Def” Kahn, 20th Fighter Wing chief of staff. “These exercises support the Air Force's concept of agile combat employment by putting small, multi-capable teams out at forward operating sites and then further dispersing them with even smaller teams.”
Throughout the week, participants engaged in multiple scenarios designed to test their skills and adaptability. These included rapidly regenerating combat sorties, ground attack missions, and coordination with allied forces. This year, in order to add a more strategic approach, the 20th FW stood up the Wing Operations Center at Shaw.
“The benefits of standing up the WOC is the Air Force's vision for the key command and control node for the wing to support all assigned and attached forces,” said Kahn. “We liaise with higher headquarters, turning operational level planning into tactical level execution. For the units, we provide all aspects of mission planning, operations center control, maintenance operations, logistics operations and real time intelligence.”
This year also marked the first time the 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions flight participated in Iron Hand, in-person. Typically they would build munitions in advance to be airlifted to the location at the start of the exercise, but this year they did everything on-site. Their involvement not only tested their effectiveness in the environment, but also allowed for them to integrate with other units, furthering agile combat employment concepts.
“We armed up and manned the perimeter of the tent area whenever we are under attack,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Corbin Bennett, 20th EMS conventional maintenance crew chief. “We have integrated with other units, helped the loaders, and we've been helping Aerospace Ground Equipment tow equipment to get it in position for jets. AGE has also been helping us by towing things to the flight line for us while we're out here building bombs.”
The exercise emphasized the importance of adaptability, efficiency and teamwork under constrained conditions. Iron Hand also displays the Air Force’s shift from large force packages to smaller, multidisciplinary teams.
“We were able to build chaff and flare in the middle of the field, which isn't something you normally do,” said Bennett. “We built up 240 sticks of chaff and flare and 9 bombs. Three people isn't normally what you would require for such a large scale operation and doing three different operations at once can be kind of hard, but we made it work with the help of the other units.”
With a high operations tempo, teams were required to execute multiple skill-sets in order to deliver mission essential functions.
“They have to learn to deal with limited equipment, limited experience, and accomplish the mission,” said Kahn. “Hopefully what people take away from this is sizing their teams and figuring out which core competencies we need. Then also, how to be agile when you don't have the full support of the main operating base that you're at.”
Following the conclusion of Iron Hand 24-03, Airmen returned to Shaw Air Force Base. The skills and experiences gained during the exercise will be instrumental in future training and operations.