KINGWOOD, W.Va. - The West Virginia National Guard and the Irregular Warfare Center hosted a two-week exercise for more than 420 members of the U.S. military, special operations community, allies and partners from 16 nations, and observers to provide validation for deploying special forces in an irregular warfare scenario.
The Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare Exercise 23-01 was held throughout West Virginia and wrapped up June 16 at Camp Dawson.
The Department of Defense’s summary of the Irregular Warfare annex to the National Defense Strategy defines irregular warfare as the struggle among state and non-state actors to influence populations and affect legitimacy.
Ridge Runner focused on building long-term interoperability between U.S. and foreign national special operations and conventional forces, enabling mission essential tasks, and assessing readiness while enhancing strategic and operational irregular warfare capabilities.
Participants from Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne); 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne); Bravo Company, 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne); and the United States Marine Corps 193rd Special Operations Group, 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, 4th Civil Affairs Group, and 4th Marine Corps Advisor Company Alpha trained alongside forces from the United Kingdom, Latvia, Lithuania, Polish Territorial Defense Force, Polish GRYF, and Polish JKW.
Observers from Canada, Georgia, Moldova, Qatar, Hungary, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Australia, and the United Kingdom Special Air Service also attended.
“The Ridge Runner Irregular Warfare exercise helps provide critical cross-training and preparation of both special operations and joint forces to conduct irregular warfare activities while deployed into potentially hostile or contested environments,” said Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, adjutant general for the West Virginia National Guard. “Today’s complex environment demands we look to this type of realistic training to prepare our forces to combat malign and malicious activities by adversaries and peer competitors.”
Crane said the IWC partnership enabled the expansion of the Ridge Runner program to a premier training venue for domestic and international forces.
“In addition, we were able to work with other state adjutants generals through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program to bring partner and allied forces to train in West Virginia on irregular warfare tasks,” he said.
Exercise participants assimilated into communities in two simulated nations in northern and southern West Virginia. Participants met with actual local government officials, law enforcement and emergency services personnel. They monitored simulated economic and political situations in each “nation” through simulated newscasts and media engagements, mirroring procedures and operations they would conduct during actual deployments.
Information from these engagements drove additional training and missions, eventually countering a simulated invasion by hostile forces from neighboring nations.
“These simulations are critical to ensuring America and our allies are prepared and ready to handle the destabilizing tactics we’re seeing Russia and China employ through organizations like the Wagner Group,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a Senate Armed Services Committee member.
Before the exercise, attendees participated in a three-day irregular warfare academics program through the Joint Special Operations University.
“The benefit of what the IWC and Ridge Runner brings the knowledge of the non-kinetic skills and base knowledge to operate in an environment that is presenting the greatest non-kinetic threat to freedom around the world,” said 2nd Lt. Marek Zaluski, Polish Territorial Defense Forces. “Freedom of not only the United States but also its partners and allies.”
In another component of the exercise, the Ridge Healer event, the 193rd Special Operations Medical Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, tested its ability to support irregular warfare medical tasks in an austere environment.
Sen. Shelley Capito said the Ridge Runner exercise demonstrated “the strength and leadership of West Virginia authorities across all levels of government and allowed our Special Operators to train in unique settings across the entire state.”
U.S. Army Maj. Mikael Susick, Ridge Runner director, said lessons learned from the exercise would help improve future iterations.