Special Tactics Airmen and Green Berets from the 3rd and 20th Special Forces Group participated in Southern Strike 2020. The event was a large-scale, joint multinational combat exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard. This exercise provided special operators a unique training opportunity that provided tactical level training for the full spectrum conflict.
Exercise Scope. The time frame of the exercise was from January 30 to February 13, 2020. The Southern Strike exercise is a National Guard Bureau (NGB), Title 32 funded, tactical exercise program. The Joint Exercise Control Group (JECG) is comprised of military and civilian personnel with extensive SOF experience. The Mississippi National Guard hosts and supports this annual event.
Training Areas. The large-scale exercise took place in Mississippi at several military installations. Many of the primary (C2) events took place at the Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) in Gulfport, Mississippi. Outlying locations provided many of the field training opportunities. These included Camp Shelby, Fort Morgan (AL), Camp McCain Training Center, and Naval Air Station Meridian.
Participating Units. More than 2,000 service members from 22 states – and some international participants as well – conducted missions designed to enhance their effectiveness. The participating air units came from diverse fields to include ISR, close air support, airlift (fixed and rotary), and Aeromedical Evacuation. Active duty, National Guard, Reserve units were all represented. The countries of Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, and the Netherlands all provided military personnel.
List of Units:
- 3rd Special Forces Group
- 20th Special Forces Group
- Dutch SOF
- Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST)
- 125th Special Tactics Squadron (STS) (ANG)
- 183rd Airlift Squadron
- 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment
- Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 (Seabees)
- Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60
- 49th Fighter Training Squadron
- 119th Wing
- 266th Range Squadron
- And many more . . .
- UH-60 Blackhawks
- CH-47 Chinooks
- T-38 Talons
- KC-135 Stratotanker
- A-10 Thunderbolt II
- B-1 Bomber
- MQ-9 Reaper
- MH-60R Seahawk
Exercise Features. The Southern Strike 2020 event featured counterinsurgency, air supremacy, close air support, en route casualty care, non-combatant evacuations, maritime and riverine special operations. In addition, staffs were provided the opportunity to further develop staff functions and procedures.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators clear an objective at Fort Morgan, Alabama during Southern Strike. USAF photo by MSgt Jason Robertson, Feb 6, 2020.
SOF Ground Unit Training. Ground units from Special Tactics, 3rd Special Forces Group, and the 20th Special Forces Group conducted a variety of missions supported by air assets. COIN, Direct Action, Close Air Support, and other missions were exercised. There was a lot of air activity due to the huge role played by the air units. This afforded the SOF ground elements plenty of opportunities to conduct air infils, exfils, close air support calls for fire, helicopter hoist operations, and more.
Photo: A Tactical Air Control Party airman practices medical care on a simulated wounded person during Exercise Southern Strike 2020. USAF photo.
USAF SOST. A Special Operations Surgical Team (SOST) was able to work with other SOF elements during the exercise. The training helps mitigate medical risk factors on deployments where the SOST may need to perform lifesaving surgeries and medical care en route to a Role 2 medical facility. The SOST provides four unique medical capabilities – advanced trauma resuscitation, tactical damage control surgery, post-op critical care, and critical care evacuation. 
MQ-9 Reapers. Remotely piloted vehicles were integrated into the exercise. One of the missions was flown from Gulfport up to Camp Shelby where it dropped a GPS guided inert bomb (GBU 38). The MQ-9s belong to the 119th Wing in Fargo, North Dakota. It is one of only five Launch and Recovery Elements (LRE) in the Air National Guard. The Reapers were launched by local controllers in Gulfport using “line of sight” takeoff. Once airborne the Reapers were handed off to pilots in Ohio’s Mission Control Element (MCE) in Springfield, Ohio. From there the aircraft is flown by the pilot using satellite architecture. The MQ-9 pilots work with JTACs on the ground for the missions. 
Photo: A U.S. Navy MH-60R Seahawk from the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 is refueled at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point during Southern Strike 2020 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Photo by USAF SSgt Trevor McBride, February 4, 2020.
Setting Up FARPs. One of the exercise events was the establishment of a Forward Arming and Refueling Point or FARP. The FARPs were used as temporary refueling sites for helicopters to refuel – extending the time and range that they can fly. FARPs were set up at Gulfport and Camp Shelby.
Ninth Iteration of Southern Strike. This year’s Southern Strike was the ninth iteration of the exercise. The event is an excellent opportunity for ground special operations teams to work closely with a variety of air platforms during training events.
Southern Strike 2020 – 3rd SFG Conducts Hoist Training, DVIDS, February 1, 2020, 1 minute. The SF soldiers rehearse medical evacuation procedures with a U.S. Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter.
Southern Strike 2020 – TACP Training Mission, DVIDS, February 4, 2020, 3 minutes. TACPs work with A-10 Thunderbolt II’s on the range.
 “Special Tactics Airmen participate in Southern Strike 2020”, 24 SOW, February 11, 2020.
 “Flying the MQ-9. One of the Many Firsts at Southern Strike”, DVIDS, February 9, 2020.
 “All Systems Go”, JFH MS National Guard, February 11, 2020. A Senior Airman discusses the role of the MQ-9 Reaper in the Southern Strike 2020 exercise.
Top Photo: MH-60R Seahawk aircrew member, assigned to the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 60 out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida conducts live-fire close air support at Camp Shelby, Mississippi as part of Southern Strike 2020. USAF photo by SSgt Trevor McBride, February 4, 2020.