Northern Strike 20 remains Guard’s premier joint fires exercise, with COVID-19 precautions in place
By CAPT. ANDREW LAYTON
Michigan National Guard
LANSING — Since 2012, exercise Northern Strike has been held annually at Michigan National Guard training facilities, morphing over time into the Department of Defense’s largest annual joint, reserve component readiness event.
This year the exercise will look different, but will still take place as the DoD’s premier joint fires integration training opportunity.
Northern Strike 20 will be held July 19-31 at Michigan’s newly renamed National All-Domain Warfighting Center, encompassing Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. The Michigan National Guard, in partnership with public health officials, has developed a comprehensive plan that allows Northern Strike to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic while safeguarding participants and local communities.
“Northern Strike is designed to challenge training audiences with multiple forms of convergence that advance interoperability across multicomponent, multinational, and interagency partners,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “The exercise also presents a premier opportunity for Army Futures and Defense Industry partners to test emerging technologies for the future warfight.”
In addition to building overall readiness for DoD audiences, Northern Strike is critically important to the local economy in Grayling and Alpena, bringing an average of $30 million to Michigan’s economy each year in military pay, travel, and local spending in Northern Michigan.
“Northern Strike fuses Michigan’s unique blend of geography, people, and technology-based industry to offer an unmatched opportunity for building readiness for the U.S. military, as well as coalition and industry partners,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John Miner, Alpena CRTC commander. “Of course, this exercise would not be possible without the support of our communities, and we are grateful for the cooperation of numerous local partners who are integral to the planning and execution of Northern Strike each year.”
While Northern Strike typically draws an average of 6,000 to 7,000 National Guard members from 20 states – as well as members of multiple coalition services and every active duty branch of the U.S. military – units will participate in Northern Strike 20 with a reduced number of personnel on the ground to ensure proper considerations for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Air Force squadrons, for instance, will fly A-10, B-52, F-16, and KC-135 aircraft from bases around the U.S. to participate in training scenarios in the airspace of Michigan’s National All-Domain Warfighting Center.
A total of more than 2,300 personnel are expected to participate at Northern Strike 20, including Army and Air National Guard forces from California, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin. Active duty forces from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, as well as personnel from the U.S. Army Reserves, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and NATO partner countries Latvia and Lithuania will also participate.
Michigan National Guard medical officials have worked hand-in-hand with local public health authorities to establish a robust risk-mitigation plan that incorporates COVID-19 guidance implemented by the Centers for Disease Control. These countermeasures include social distancing, required use of masks when social distancing is not possible, and frequent sanitization.
“We have made the decision to accommodate the training needs of Northern Strike participants very carefully, and steps will be taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the utmost,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Burrell, Camp Grayling deputy commander. “With this plan in place, we will continue to meet our objective, which is providing Army National Guard and Air National Guard units with a premier venue for joint live fire proficiency at the company/troop level and multi-components units from battalion to division level on Joint Fires integration.”
Since March, more than 1,100 members of the Michigan National Guard have been activated to support statewide COVID-19 relief efforts including logistics aid for medical equipment, medical screening operations, planning augmentation, support for construction of alternate care facilities, and widespread community COVID-19 testing. No members of the Michigan National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of their participation in these missions.
“Innovation and partnership are critical components of Michigan’s COVID-19 response, but responding with humanitarian support to the needs of state and local agencies when requested is just one of the Michigan National Guard’s missions,” said Rogers. “Michigan is also a provider of unrivaled training opportunities; we are using the same resources of innovation and partnership to continue our mission as a provider of exceptional service for training needs throughout the Department of Defense.”