Here's why A-10 Thunderbolts took off and landed on a local Michigan highway.

Residents of rural Michigan just west of Alpena just got to see something that perhaps no one in America ever has before — modern Air Force aircraft intentionally landing on a U.S. civilian highway.

And not just any aircraft. They were A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthogs” belonging to the Michigan Air National Guard.

It was all part of a training exercise called Northern Strike which is a multi-component, multinational exercise designed to validate the readiness of Michigan’s joint-reserve force and enhance interoperability with allies. According to The Michigan Air National Guard, the exercise marks the first known time modern Air Force aircraft have deliberately landed on a US civilian roadway.

“The idea was to build confidence in what we thought we could do. We’ve done it overseas before,” Col. Matt Robins, commander of the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Operations Group, told the Military Times.

Overall, four A-10s used a stretch of highway M-32 just west of Alpena as a makeshift runway.

According to Robbins, the A-10s weren’t the only aircraft involved in the exercise. In addition to the four A-10s, two C-146A Wolfhounds also participated in the simulated “austere environment” operation.

“Today, we put four A-10s and two C-146s in on a less than one mile stretch of Highway 32 outside of Alpena,” Robins told the Military Times. “Today was our opportunity to put into practice what we’ve been training and practicing too. To engage in Agile combat employment as part of exercise Northern Strike.”

According to Penny Carroll, Chief of Public Affairs for the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Northern Strike is the Michigan National Guard’s most extensive annual exercise. Primarily, Northen Strike annually validates the readiness of Michigan’s joint-reserve force, and this year features some 5,100 multi-national participants. Northern Strike 21 began July 31 and is scheduled to conclude Aug 14.

The Michigan National Guard began hosting Northern Strike in 2012. However, aircraft engaging in Agile Combat Deployment is new to this year’s iteration and focuses on potential conflicts of tomorrow.

“This [exercise] absolutely gave us the opportunity to train to what we think tomorrow war could be like, and today gave us the opportunity to demonstrate that we can do it right here in our own backyard,” Robins told the Military Times.

Warthogs taking off from a stretch of road was only a tiny part of the overall operation, Robbins told the Military Times. Before using a makeshift runway, Air Force Special Tactics Airmen jumped into and “seized” nearby Alpena. After which, they set up the stretch of highway deemed suitable for a runway.

“This is part of [operating in] a contested environment for the last week and a half. While those airplanes were landing on the highway, the base they took from was under simulated attack. These A-10s were able to land, and then simulate refitting, rearming, refueling and then get back into the fight,” Robbins said.

James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.

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