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By Staff Sgt. Elora J. McCutcheon
341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
FORT WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, Mont.— Montana sun blazed down over the shoulders of Mount Helena’s foothills and into a wide plain of tall grass; its presence was dulled only by the scattered rain clouds that provided cool relief for armored security forces personnel running in formations on the ground below.
Operation Avalanche Defender was afoot, and nearly 200 uniformed men and women were arriving in groups via U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk piloted by the Montana National Guard.
The four-day simulated deployment exercise from May 30 to June 2 at Fort William Henry Harrison, Mont., was designed specifically for the 841st Missile Security Forces Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
Airmen of the 841st MSFS spent 96 hours seizing initiative and pressing the offense against an enemy force, a critical skillset to fight in the future and deliver airpower to deter and stop aggression by peer adversary.
“The whole purpose of this exercise is to get [Defenders] in an offensive mindset and actually get out and maneuver to attack their enemy,” said Master Sgt. Kurtis Angevine, 841st MSFS weapons and tactics section chief.
The participating Airmen spent upwards of 12 hours per training day exercising close-quarters combat, weapon employments, team movements and medical training in an environment challenging them with relentless heat, lack of shelter and an expansive, uneven terrain.
Despite the physical demands, the Airmen were a solidified force and worked through the exhaustion. They would gather beneath any shade they could find in between bouts of training and pull crushed snacks from their cargo pockets and plate carriers to share with teammates. When breaks were over, helmets were buckled on and an excited buzz resumed as boots hit the ground.
“There are going to be times we complain about what we do, but then other times where it’s like, ‘We’re gonna do this together, and it sucks, but here we go. Full send,’” said Airman 1st Class Izabel Meyer, 841st MSFS missile security operator. “It’s difficult for people to understand security forces unless they’re in security forces.”
At Malmstrom, one of the primary missions for the missile security forces squadrons is to recapture and recover launch facilities spread far and wide across the missile complex spanning the state.
Meyer and her fellow Defenders are “expected to be masters of defense in ground combat,” according to Angevine, and in order to live up to those expectations they must be trained accordingly.
“You can’t fight to get airborne or fight for air superiority without Defenders on the ground,” Angevine explained, drawing back to the Air Force Future Operating Concept which inspired the exercise. “This [exercise] provides a critical skillset for all Defenders everywhere, in every environment: Don’t stay stagnant, get control of the situation and return to the offense.”
Avalanche Defender is the largest exercise the 841st MSFS has ever done. Everything about its conception was intentional, down to the choice in its legacy name, according to Angevine.
The planning team decided to name the exercise based on Operation Avalanche, which was part of an allied invasion of Italy during World War II.
“In our heads, we figured if [the forward operating base] was an environment where the enemy took the airfield, we would take the offense to take it back and defend it,” Angevine said.
Angevine was on the ground observing the entire exercise from start to finish in order to mentor Airmen as they went along. By the end of each day, his face matched that of those under his care: sunburnt and relaxed with content after completing hours of training.
“My favorite part was when the Defenders were tasked with attacking and seizing the forward operating base,” Angevine began to describe of the operation, which provided a chance to practice larger ground element attacks than usual. “It was dynamic, the Airmen were loud and
aggressive, and it was overall just really exciting. They coordinated all forces in the attack with precision, which showed that they trained hard for this. I am just really proud to be on their team.”