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820th BDG puts the “agile” in agile combat employment

  • Published
  • By Capt. Faith Brodkorb
  • 93d Air Ground Operations Wing Public Affairs

Before the bustling sounds of ground crews and screaming fighter jet engines filled the air around a remote airfield, the droning turboprop engines of a single HC-130J Combat King II first broke the nighttime silence.

As the aircraft flew over the training range, 29 Airmen from the 820th Base Defense Group silently drifted to the ground by parachute and quickly got to work.

Members of the 820th BDG participated in Exercise Mosaic Tiger 21-1 at Avon Park, Florida, February 22, 2021, to demonstrate their capabilities as part of Air Combat Command’s lead wing concept.

The concept brings multiple squadrons together for deployment under the command of a lead wing, which may or may not be the wing they normally report to, allowing them to train as a team before heading downrange. This provides theater commanders with a wing-echelon unit that’s organized, trained, and equipped to generate combat power at the speed of relevance in a contested environment.

Lead wings are a resilient, adaptive and proactive force able to operate with joint and coalition partners. The 820th BDG fits into this mission using Airmen from multiple career fields to secure airfields in small or large teams that can operate independently.

“This was our first exercise in Air Combat Command’s lead wing concept, and it definitely helped to inform when and how the BDG is employed,” said Lt. Col. Dan Minnocci, airborne mission commander for Mosaic Tiger 21-1. “Our airborne, air-mobile, and multi-functional capabilities provide commanders the agility to rapidly mass and work and maneuver troops to shape an operating environment.”

The core mission of base defense squadrons is to defend an airfield from its original seizure to the arrival of follow-on forces. They achieve this by leveraging expertise from their security forces, intelligence, communications, medical, logistics, engineering and explosive ordinance disposal Airmen. 

After parachuting into the airfield, the defenders secured the airfield and set up defensive positions with a Special Tactics Team from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

“Being Airborne qualified and parachuting into an operation allows us to quickly get anywhere and set up security, so aircraft can safely bring in the other assets to run an airfield,” said Capt. Octavio Otero, 823d Base Defense Squadron operations officer.

The 820th BDG then established over-the-horizon communication back to Moody AFB and integrated their multi-domain capabilities with the rest of the team on the ground.

“Even before the term ‘multi-capable Airman’ became a thing, the BDG has been teaching security forces Airmen how to assist other experts in the squadron,” said Senior Airman Allen Unaitis, 823d BDS headquarters squad system operator.  “For this exercise, I received specialized communications training and established the satellite link back to Moody, even though I’m in the Security Forces [career field].”

Over the next 18 hours of the exercise, the defenders encountered surveillance from hostile forces and repelled small ground attacks. Following a handoff of the airfield to the 23d Wing’s Multi-Capable Airmen team, the 820th BDG loaded onto a C-17 and returned to Moody AFB.

“We learn a lot from exercises like this,” Minnocci said. “They let us try new concepts and validate what we do against varying threat scenarios and make refinements to our training and equipment. We can do all this while gaining experience with joint forces.”