Capt. John Paek, 50th Operations Support Squadron current operations flight commander, recently returned from Japan, where he participated in a strategic exercise involving U.S. and Japanese forces.
The exercise, known as KEEN EDGE, is an annual event that was designed to prepare the 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces-Japan to maximize their bilateral relationship with the Japan Self-Defense Force.
The term, “bilateral,” is important when talking about the exercise because Japan’s constitution places limitations on its military forces.
“This uniquely bilateral construct presents a number of novel challenges that are not necessarily present in the more prevalent combined structure,” Paek said. “KEEN EDGE is a means to develop concepts of operations that will allow USFJ to quickly and decisively respond to potential threats within the Pacific.”
During KEEN EDGE 14, which took place Jan. 21 to 31 at Yokota Air Base, Japan, various Japanese and U.S. forces employed computer simulations in an effort to practice the steps they would take in the event of a crisis.
The coalition exercise was Paek’s first.
He was selected to participate, in part, because he completed the Space Warfighter Preparation Course, training that prepares space operators for deployments and exercises such as KEEN EDGE. For Paek, the training was invaluable. His expertise in a multitude of space systems helped him communicate the strategic importance of space assets to the Pacific theater.
“During KEEN EDGE 14, I was the operations liaison for the Joint Force Component Coordination Element, an organization that acts as the coordination agency between Air Force Pacific Command and the 5th Air Force,” he said. “I dealt primarily with the Ballistic Missile Defense mission by coordinating with Navy and Army elements within the bilateral joint operations center.”
The exercise presented Paek with some grueling challenges in a high-stress environment. It’s an experience he’ll continue to appreciate as he returns to 50 OSS.
“I gained a wealth of knowledge on the emerging threats within the area and the strategic importance of the 5th Air Force in Japan,” he said. “I also gained experience from working in a joint environment with other armed services and the Japanese toward a unique and relevant Pacific threat.”
Though he was the only 50 OSS member to travel to Japan for KEEN EDGE 14 he wasn’t the only benefactor. Squadron leaders send 50 OSS members to various world-wide exercises on a routine basis.
“Sending our members to exercises around the world provides us with the opportunity to see how operations are conducted in different areas of the world,” said Capt. Justin Fernandez, 50 OSS assistant director of operations. “Our military is not the same as others, so getting the perspective of other nations’ militaries can help us immensely back home, especially for us in the 50 OSS and how we conduct training within our own squadrons. Finally, it gives our guys the opportunity to see how our military works in a coalition type environment while also letting us educate those who are not familiar with space operations and practices.”
The squadron also sent a few members to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii in support of the same exercise, sent members to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in support of Red Flag 2014.
“We’ve also sent members to Germany and other places across the world,” Fernandez said. “They serve as subject matter experts to combat air forces as well as provide information about space while aiding the efforts of simulated recovery.”