GULFPORT, Miss. – More than 2,000 U.S. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen from throughout the country gathered at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center for Exercise Southern Strike 2022 in April and May.
It was the 11th year the CRTC hosted the exercise.
“Southern Strike is a joint, multinational exercise hosted by the Mississippi National Guard right here at the CRTC in Gulfport, Mississippi, with over 2,000 service members across all branches,” said U.S. Army Col. Andrew Rendon, director of Exercise Southern Strike 2022.
“We conduct a full spectrum of operations including counterinsurgency, noncombatant evacuation, maritime operations, special forces operations, and conventional operations,” he said.
With a diverse selection of training areas, Mississippi is the perfect place for an exercise like Southern Strike. The event also allowed Mississippi to show off its charm.
“Any time we do a military exercise, it benefits the state in a number of ways,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, adjutant general of Mississippi. “This exercise introduces the men and women who we are bringing in here to do the training to Mississippi. It shows them our hospitality and what a great state we are.”
Hospitality strengthens partnership, and partnership is a major theme of the exercise.
“We are better prepared for our combat mission if we bring in partners from across the services. In this exercise, we have Navy and Marines working side-by-side with the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Active Air Force and Army, along with Reserve forces,” said Boyles.
“We’ve got 20 states represented here. We have a total of about 33 Air National Guard and 20 Army National Guard units working here and then we supplement that with active-duty partners,” he said.
International partners also participated in the exercise.
“We are always inviting international partners to come here to train with us, and they get a lot of benefit out of seeing how we deploy our operators,” said Boyles. “Uzbekistan is here. They are a strategic partner for Mississippi and we train with them on a number of occasions over the course of any year.”
Working with partner forces is important on the battlefield, particularly in the case of peer-to-peer conflicts.
“Working across the joint branches to develop relationships and learn each and every one of our functional areas boosts our ability to fight in a large-scale combat operation, and it is really exciting to be able to have that opportunity right here in Gulfport, Mississippi,” said Rendon.
The joint training was tailored to specific training objectives.
“At the CRTC, we focused on aviation operations, both Air Force and Army, rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations,” said Rendon. “We also had operations that took place across three states ... including Camp Shelby, Meridian Naval Air Station and Avon Park, Florida.”
This Southern Strike added numerous events focused on specific obstacles.
“I asked the staff very early on to incorporate some new concepts as we turn to a near-peer and peer-to-peer focus,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Barry A. Blanchard, assistant adjutant general and commander, Mississippi Air National Guard.
U.S. Air Force Col. Bryce Butler, deputy director of Exercise Southern Strike 2022, said one such addition was Agile Combat Employment — the Air Force’s new concept for employing forces into combat.
“We were able to stress our Airmen,” Butler said. “We put them to the test to grow them in their capabilities and be able to execute this type of mission.”
Even with new mission objectives, the highlight of the exercise was the strengthened capacity for joint operations.
“One of the primary training objectives is the relationship that we are going to improve and develop across the joint spectrum between the Navy, Air Force, Army and the Marines with both Reserve and Active components,’ said Rendon. “Through Southern Strike, we have strengthened those relationships which, means that we will be successful later to go out, fight and win our nation’s wars.”