West Virginia National Guard host key partners for SENTRY STORM 2024

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Samantha Brown
  • West Virginia National Guard

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard hosted key partners to observe its joint training exercise, SENTRY STORM 24, at Camp Branch in Logan County, April 17th, 2024. The exercise, staged at various locations and in the skies over West Virginia, included an estimated 500 personnel from the state’s Air and Army National Guard, partnering National Guard units from Kentucky, North Carolina, and Michigan, as well as Civil Air Patrol units.

Air Force Col. James Freid-Studio, Director of Air Operations for West Virginia Air National Guard and lead for SENTRY STORM 24, articulated his vision of the mission, saying, “The overall goal of this exercise is to train Airmen and Soldiers to interoperate in contested, or even denied, environments. In addition to training for the federal combat mission, these skills directly relate to training for the National Guard’s domestic operations responsibilities here at home.”

SENTRY STORM 24 focused on the concepts and maneuvers necessary for agile combat employment (referred to as “ACE”) for dispersed operations in contested environments. This entails launching, recovering, and maintaining aircraft from challenging, even unlikely, operating locations rather than traditional main operating bases. ACE includes an increased emphasis on operations in, from, and through austere environments, making West Virginia’s unique topography the ideal backdrop to test the nation’s Airmen and Soldiers.

Exercise Director for SENTRY STORM 24, Air Force Maj David Groom, stated, “The master scenario and desired learning objectives for each participating unit were designed to shift the operational mindset from counterinsurgency to that of facing a near-peer competitor in areas where major bases and support would not be available.”

In line with those objectives, events included airdrop and landing zone execution, aeromedical evacuation, and forward operating base ground training– each conceptually separate but integrated within the overall mission. The execution and implementation of each were made more complex as robust winds blew through Camp Branch and its manmade landing zones.

Still, the exercise has proven to be a coordinated exhibition of airpower, over 20 aircraft including C-130s, C-17s, A-10s, Army UH-60s, and Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172s will be employed for training, with approximately 50 sorties planned for this year’s iteration of SENTRY STORM.

In addition to training units at the tactical level, staff planning exercises will allow senior leaders to participate from a strategic level. Groom emphasized that the Command-and-Control aspects of the exercise during execution were to provide support when needed, but to otherwise remain behind the scenes. “We want to allow for the methodologies of decentralized control and distributed operations to take root in the implementation of this mission.” He continued, “This reinforces the concept that many moving parts of an operation can be successfully executed throughout all corners of the state [or other real-world location], separately and simultaneously.”

Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, visited the grounds with a number of other distinguished visitors, to observe Airmen and Soldiers execute the day’s training activities. A proponent of mission readiness, Maj. Gen. Crane stated, “The best thing you can do to keep from getting into a fight is to make it known that you're ready for one,” Maj. General Bill Crane said. “If we keep training hard, we’ll always be prepared for what’s out there."

Wednesday marked Day Four of SENTRY STORM 24, halfway to ENDEX for its participants. Maj. Groom stated that the exercise has “already proven to be a huge success.” Adding, “The participation of 12 Air and Army National Guard units from four states has provided the opportunity for a true joint operational environment that will help prepare our forces for future conflicts.”

Col. Freid-Studlo reinforced the sentiment, saying “We appreciate the willingness of the National Guard units from other states to expend time and resources to enhance the training environment. Overall, this is an excellent opportunity to hone our joint warfighting skills. One team, one fight!”

The West Virginia National Guard encompasses both the West Virginia Air and Army National Guard and consists of more than 60 units and detachments operating in communities across the state.