JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii –
ACE – Agile Combat Employment. It’s not just the new buzz word for the U.S. Air Force, it’s an operational concept designed to help give the advantage in the next major conflict. It’s a proactive and reactive operational scheme of maneuver executed within threat timelines to increase survivability while generating combat power.
“ACE is a means to complicate an adversary’s targeting,” said Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander, at a previous Air and Space Force Association Air, Space, Cyber Conference. “If you look at what China has been doing over the past several years, and the number of places they’ve been expanding and imposing Chinese will, they are doing so in a manner that is counter to the international rules-based order and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. We need to challenge China and Russia Every. Single. Day.”
This is where ACE comes in. The dispersal of forces in a hub and spoke model allows the Air Force to be more resilient and challenge China in a manner that’s operationally unpredictable, but strategically predictable.
One critical piece that makes ACE work is multi-capable Airmen. These are Airmen that learn how to conduct operations outside of their normal Air Force specialty code, so they can get the mission done with a smaller footprint out in the field.
Recently, Airmen from the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Medical Group flew to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to put this very concept to the test by building a medical tent with a small contingent of personnel.
“We’re establishing a baseline understanding of how long it takes to land in a remote location and establish medical capabilities using new equipment developed for medical ACE spoke sites,” said Capt. Jennifer Ward, 176th Medical Group medical administrative officer. “With a team of six personnel, we set up the two medical tents and became familiar with the shelter for remote contingency medical applications.”
The team of six—all from the medical career field—learned about the specialized tents designed for its small footprint and ease in set up—even in low-light conditions. They trained on how to set up and configure them in different ways to ensure maximum results when at a spoke site.
The team will take what they have learned over the past week and apply it to different scenarios in Northern Edge in 2023 and beyond.
“In May 2023 we will use this package to test a very basic scenario to see what we should or shouldn't change,” said Master Sgt. Angela Bear, 176th Medical Group health service technician. “We need to make sure the [Air Force specialty codes] that were selected truly work when we put a scenario to the test and make adjustments from there.”
The different AFSCs range from a physician’s assistant and medic to a public health technician and administrative support to get a full spectrum of care available to those who will need it.
“These remote medical capabilities are important for wartime efforts as well as global health engagement,” Ward said. “As the U.S. pivots from conflict in the Middle East to concerns about near-peer threats, the whole approach changes. The results of such a conflict means operating in an entirely different environment with different logistical challenges, different strategies, and a different pace. It’s an incredible mind-shift when most everyone currently serving has spent their whole career focused on the Middle East. We need to completely change our priorities and how we do business.”
As part of their time in Hawaii, the team spent time inventorying medical supplies and building pallets that will be used in future exercises—this will ensure they have everything they need to set up at an ACE spoke location.
“All the choices we are making to pack this capability can be backed up by experience on the ground and consideration for what the next threat environment will look like,” said Ward.
When applied correctly, ACE complicates the enemy’s targeting process, creates political and operational dilemmas for the enemy, and creates flexibility for friendly forces. This is what the next conflict will look like, and these medical professionals are training to ensure they are ready for the future and beyond.
“Training like this gets me ‘fired up, put me in the fight tomorrow,’” Bear said. “When I sit back and look at the footprint and listen to the briefings, it's both so exciting and petrifying. I have been deployed several times like most of our team members but this one will be different. We will not come out as the medical heroes saving everyone. We will have to ‘do what we can’ and, after serving in Middle East conflicts, that can be hard to grasp. I think it's difficult as most people are stuck in the ways of history, but this next war is going to be one this generation has not yet seen. I think it's crucial we listen to our leaders and really train how we are going to fight because our lives will depend on it.”