Iron Sharpens Iron: 172nd Airlift Wing Conducts Operation Iron Magnolia

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Damara Cormier and Staff Sgt. Jared Bounds
  • 172nd Airlift Wing

The 172nd Airlift Wing conducted Operation Iron Magnolia in Jackson, Mississippi, September 9th, 2023. The exercise brought together the strengths and skills of Airmen from across the Wing to generate maximum airlift capability sustained by the Multi-capable Airman concept, in spite of operational stress.

Members of the 172nd Maintenance Group, 172nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, 183rd Airlift Squadron, 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and 172nd Contingency Response Flight contributed to the successful launch and recovery of 13 C-17 Globemaster III sorties in a span of only eight hours.

Operation Iron Magnolia shaped the Wing’s capabilities around the Air Force’s mission command concept: a philosophy of leadership that empowers Airmen to operate in uncertain, complex and rapidly changing environments through trust, shared awareness and understanding of the commander’s intent.

“We built in different surprises and flight profiles that a crew can expect in a combat environment,” said Lt. Col. Josh Christian, 183rd AS commander. “Sometimes, you build a test that you know you will pass, in order to make yourself look good; we built this test in order to find our operational breaking point – that day, we did not find it.”

Missions included tactical air insertions, combat offload, “hot” onload with engines running, aerial refueling and aeromedical evacuation.

“We pushed our skills to their limits and learned what we’ll need to carry on our backs into the future fight,” said Maj. Julia Joseph, senior health technician with the 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. The 183rd AES focused on getting their aeromedical specialists deployment-ready with large patient loads, evaluations and strict timelines that offered very little room for deviation.

In only 25 minutes, the Wing had launched the first six aircraft of the exercise. While each jet had varied missions and loads, each had the same destination: Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center Assault Airstrip, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where the 172nd CRF maintained the hinge of the operation by ensuring minimal turnaround time on the ground.

“Our CR Airmen inserted, established and controlled airfield operations that were integral for the flow of jets, cargo and personnel as they continued on to the next leg of their mission,” said Maj. Matt Jasinski, pilot and director of operations for the 172nd CRF.

In the days leading up to Operation Iron Magnolia, planners from the maintenance and operations groups, as well as the logistics readiness squadron, coordinated multidisciplinary training tasks that synced across different career fields. That cooperation was key to leveraging the Multi-capable Airmen concept throughout the exercise.

“When we work together and do things like this, it builds morale and cohesion,” said 1st Lt. D.J. Fordis, 183rd AS pilot and exercise planner. “Every single person played a part and proved that we can do more than just one single job.”

“Our maintainers were able to fully perform their MCA tasks, like crew chiefs assisting loadmasters, or maintenance specialists gaining experience in marshaling or refueling aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Kennedy, 172nd Maintenance Squadron component repair branch superintendent. Kennedy said the proactive and preventative mindset of maintenance was critical to keeping the exercise running smoothly. “This is exactly what we signed up for.”

The 172nd AW’s airlift capability is a cohesive force that brings every component of the Wing together in order to continually produce airpower. Operation Iron Magnolia emphasized the fact that every Airman is essential to the Wing's overall mission success, regardless of the challenges that arise.