GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - C-17s, C-130s, and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are among the many aircraft roaring over the skies of South Mississippi as Southern Strike enters its fifth year at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center.
Just as in years past, the Joint International Combat Exercise brings together units from several services to train in real life scenarios.
Crews from the 102nd Rescue Squadron are taking part in the exercise for the third year.
"Some of the users that we operate with here - Army units, Navy units - they're the same exact people, the identical units that we operate with in theater. So, it's really a dress rehearsal for what we do in combat," said Lt. Col. Paul Mercready.
The 102nd is a rescue unit practicing retrieval of a downed airman, infilling and exfilling different fields, bringing troops and supplies in, air refueling the helicopters, some combat airdrops.
Another unit participating this year, is the 172nd Airlift Wing out of Jackson. For Major Chipper Woodruff, it's a chance to work together with groups they might meet while on deployment.
"This is an opportunity for us to work together as a joint team and resolve some of the differences that we actually encounter working in theater together. It's better to see it here in the training environment for the first time, as opposed to when we're doing it for real," Woodruff said.
The conditions and variety in environments are good for different exercises, but the advantage comes from working so closely with so many different groups.
"You get some environmental changes down here for sure. The weather pattern down here is a little different. But the biggest training difference that you get here, an advantage that you get here for an exercise like southern strike, is you've got all these different players together in once place working together for a common goal," said Woodruff, "And it's that inter-agency, inter-service experience that really pays dividends when you've gotta do it for real."
Southern Strike 17 runs through November 4.