NODAL Lightning 21-1: Honing wing effectiveness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taylor Slater
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing conducted its first Nodal Lightning exercise of 2021 at Ramstein AB and geographically separated units across the European theater from May 17-20.

“We integrate all our units through live, virtual and constructed events, taking into consideration the dynamics of each unit’s unique location,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Barger, 521st AMOW Inspector General superintendent. “The result is a tailored exercise script to maximize the most from each exercise at each location.”

Nodal Lightning 21-1 is focused on assessing the effectiveness of the wing to operate in a contested environment and honing their skills through scenarios such as simulated air attacks, chemical attacks and unit operations in adverse conditions.

“For (Air Mobility Command) we do our wartime mission every day,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Powers, 521st AMOW Inspector General director of exercises and inspections. “What’s different about an exercise is that we kick it up a notch. We say, ‘Now do this when you have to respond to simulated attacks.’ ‘Do this when your communications are degraded.’ We provide that extra stress through realistically representing what would happen in wartime.”

New strategies implemented through Nodal Lightning 21-1 are Agile Combat Employment concepts such as operations in remote environments. For example, wing Airmen can be universally taught to recognize deficiencies in aircraft or hardware that would normally be a skill solely held by people of that career field.

“This is all to prepare for the ever changing and sometimes unpredictable future environment of air mobility,” Barger said.

Much like Nodal Lightning 20-2 in October 2020, COVID-19 procedures and adjusting to varying host nation guidances factored into the wing’s plans for the exercise. Barger said planners were able to navigate these challenging circumstances by dividing units into designated teams, preventing them from being in close contact with other units and allowing for easy contact tracing.

“It’s the hard work of our exercise planners, who take those guidances and tailor their scenarios to each unit, that deserve the credit for making this happen,” Barger said.

According to Powers, the increase in real-world activity since October 2020 added another layer of challenge for the wing during the exercise.

“This (exercise) was a better test because we also had a lot of real-world work the units were trying to do,” Powers said. “Then I complicate their environment and bring those opportunities to demonstrate their ability to operate and accomplish the mission in a full spectrum readiness environment.”

Nodal Lightning exercises are just another way the 521st AMOW continues to grow and adapt with an ever-changing landscape.

“The Air Force I joined 20 years ago is not the same as it is today, and that evolution will not stop,” Barger said. “This exercise also gives newer Airmen that may not have experience in a readiness exercise a chance to test their resilience and agility.”

The 521st AMOW plans to host Nodal Lightning 21-2 in the fall.