125th SFS Airmen find common ground during military exchange program

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Chelsea Smith
  • 125th Fighter Wing

Strengthening partnerships now rather than in the “foxhole” prepares U.S. forces to integrate seamlessly with their NATO counterparts when the next conflict arises. Through the DoD’s Military Reserve Exchange Program (MREP), four Airmen assigned to the 125th Security Forces Squadron integrated with the Royal Air Force’s 609 (West Riding) Squadron, RAF Regiment, Sept. 9-24, 2023, to exchange knowledge on tactics and procedures.

The MREP allows for Reserve and Guard forces to partner with associated units to share best practices and understand the training, doctrine, and operations of NATO alliance partners. The exchange also develops bilateral security cooperation and strengthens interoperability while broadening the military experience and professional knowledge of participants.

The biannual reciprocal exchange allows for small teams to participate in two-to-six-week exchanges with associated units in the UK, Germany, Denmark and Estonia. In May 2022, the 125th SFS hosted four Reservists from the UK before embarking on an exchange overseas this year.

“Our intent was to pull together a training program that provides our colleagues in the [125th SFS] with the same levels of training, hosting and cultural experiences they were able to show us,” said Flight Lt. David Haslewood, 609 (West Riding) Squadron. “We also wanted to ensure that the military training was as meaningful and relevant within the confines of the program. Our hosts went out of their way to make my team feel incredibly welcome and genuine friendships were formed from across the Atlantic.”

This year, 125th SFS Airmen learned of the history and mission of the RAF Regiment, participated in cultural experiences including stops to the Tower of London, the RAF Museum and RAF Heritage Centre, and emerged in Annual Continuation Training with Reserve and active-duty forces. This training consisted of participating in the RAFT-R, a rigorous career field specific fitness test conducted for the RAF Regiment, conducting section battle drills, and performing defensive tactics with RAF Police which included mock scenarios that simulated domestic disturbances.

Most notably, the contingent was able to view the set-up and employment of the Regiment’s counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS) as the 125th SFS pivots towards the future fight of anti-drone defense.

“They are leading in that area right now,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ricardo Cardona, 125th SFS superintendent. “[C-UAS] is going to be very relevant to us because the fight of the future is going to be against drones, so they definitely have the subject matter expertise since their unit is now shifting over to that mission. It’s right in line with what the Air Force is doing with security forces. We’re focusing less on the law enforcement side and more on airbase ground defense.”

Like the RAF Regiment, Air Guard personnel play a major role in the base and perimeter security of air installations. However, unlike the RAF Regiment, the 125th SFS features an integrated law enforcement role as opposed to working closely with a separate military police force such as the RAF Police.

“The differences we do have are very small and we’re able to talk about it here during the exchange program instead of out in the field during a real-world conflict,” said Tech Sgt. Brian Hedrick, 125th SFS craftsman. “So, it kind of lets us deconflict and bring that knowledge back to our unit instead of having to do in the heat of battle.”

Hedrick participated in the exchange in 2017 as a Senior Airmen with about three years of service behind him. Since then, he’s become a federal police officer and non-commissioned officer in the Florida Air National Guard, all areas of growth that have facilitated a vastly different experience for him this time around, he said.

“Coming back now, I have an expanded knowledge base and more context of how we fit in to the larger picture,” he said. “Also, experiencing this with our senior NCO and some of our [Active Guard Reserve] guys has been beneficial so that we can all talk about our experiences and issues from different perspectives. On the part-time side, we have some of the same challenges balancing civilian and military careers. So, we’re able to share how we overcome those challenges and exchange how we do business and hopefully bring back some ideas to our unit.”

Improving interoperability also means providing the space and opportunity for participants to form trustworthy relationships with allied partners.

“We’re not only talking about tactics and procedures, but rather, building more on that personal relationship and actually sitting down to have a meal and talk about something other than work,” said Hedrick. “If we can build these relationships now then we’re ahead of the game for the next conflict. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and that’s why this is such an important program.”

Cardona adds that the exchange helps to remain in lockstep with allied forces against common adversaries.

“This enables us to bring the relationship to the next level,” he said. “Through cultural awareness, integration and shared lessons, we hope to improve our operational capacity, and on the battlefield, it’s going to allow for a more efficient integration of forces during the next conflict.”