Lights Out, Take Off!

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lynn M. Means
  • 136th Airlift Wing

VOLK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Wis. - It’s pitch black. The sun has set, and the lights are out on the flight line July 17, 2019, at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wis.

Only a few dim lights shine around a C-130 Hercules as the crew prepare for takeoff. While aircrew don night vision equipment, two Airmen move quickly down the runway to lay out the mobile Phantom Lighting kit.

“It’s a standard light-weight, high-output light that we use in combat zones and civilian rescue situations,” said Senior Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, 123rd Special Tactics Squadron weapons and tactics non-commissioned officer in charge. “With this kit, we can mark out a safe takeoff and landing strip for aircraft.”

Bobay is participating in PATRIOT North 19, a domestic operations exercise designed to leverage partnerships and working relationships between the National Guard, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations.

“That’s exactly why we came here,” said Bobay. “We requested to do night work to practice supporting a landing zone that’s been hit by a natural disaster and has no power. We’ve used the Phantom Lights in the hurricanes that hit Houston and Saint Croix, and now we can provide that training to members at Volk Field.”

With the lights out on the airfield, the mobile lighting kit ensures aircraft can still take off and land.

“Because of the power issues that we've been having, the Phantom Lights make this like a normal landing zone operation,” said Lt. Col. Jacob Lukens, 136th Airlift Wing mission commander. “All we do is set up the lights and it’s just like landing on a very big landing zone. The special tactics team has the capability of setting lights up here and even controlling the airfield if they had to.”

The Phantom lights are not enough to prepare the aircraft for takeoff.  Donning night vision equipment, 136th Airlift Wing aircrew see what the naked eye cannot, and this is the perfect night to train for it!

“The pilots are using night vision for takeoff and landing as a backup, and for more situational awareness around the airfield,” said Lukens. “The NVGs amplify the light around them so they can clear the runway and make sure animals are not coming onto the runway - something the tower would do during normal operations with all the lights activated.”
Low light training enables Airmen to improve their situational awareness around the flight line, as they are able to see only what they are looking directly toward.  To ensure safety, they must coordinate movement and maintain awareness of what is around them at all times.

“Without being able to see, NVGs provide a narrow view around us, and there are many hazards,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert Benton, a loadmaster with the 136th Contingency Response Flight. “The propellers are spinning, vehicles are moving, we can’t see everyone out on the ramp, and we are operating heavy equipment.”

During the day, those activities are hazardous enough, and safety is the main concern.

“Night training enables us to be ready to do this in an austere environment without overt lighting,” said Benton. “With the limited lighting and use of NVGs, it increases the training requirement for maintaining situational awareness.

“Our job is to make sure that personnel are in place to load and offload the aircraft,” said Benton. “We are facilitating movement. I love it. This is what we do.”

Nearly 900 National Guard members, consisting of Soldiers and Airmen from nearly 30 states, participated in this year’s PATRIOT exercise along with local first responders, emergency management agencies and relief organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Team Rubicon.