Camp Grayling Hits the Water with Operation Northern Strike 2016

The roar of helicopters and thunder of machine guns fills the skies above Camp Grayling once again.

Operation Northern Strike is back.

The operation brings thousands of soldiers from around the world to experience realistic, intense training.

Northern Strike started two weeks ago in Camp Grayling.

Exercises range from Crawford County to Alpena, from Lake Margrethe to the skies above Northern Michigan.

9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Derrick Larr take us on the base — and on the water — to give you a closer look.

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"It takes a lot of planning, takes a lot of work to get everything down here and get everything coordinated," says Sgt. Andy Kableman, 1437th Engineer Company from Sault Ste. Marie.

Realistic situations with real ammunition…

"We have a mantra. Train as you fight," says Lt. Col. Ravi Wagh, lead plan officer for Operation Northern Strike. "If we create a situation where our soldiers aren’t held to the highest standard or they are given unrealistic training conditions, that’s how they are going to fight."

Operation Northern Strike brings more than 5,300 troops together, including 53 Army, Marine, Special Forces, Air Force and Multinational units.

As one, they train alongside troops from Latvia, Poland and Canada.

And after 6 years…it’s the largest training opportunity yet.

"In scope, in terms of truly a joint environment, a truly multi-national environment and with about three times the size, the largest effort will be done to date so far, which was last year," Lt. Col. Wagh says.

Last year, Northern Strike 2015 welcomed more than 2,700 military personnel.

This year brought nearly double…and a Camp Grayling first: amphibious assault training.

"First time in the history of Camp Grayling," Lt. Col. Wagh says. "The ability to drop track vehicles into Lake Margrethe and execute a mission following that was huge."

Michigan National Guard troops are working alongside Marine Reservists to operate amphibious landing platforms.

Using those, they can simulate bringing ground troops from one side of a body of water over to the other.

They also can help water rescues, including saving civilians and troops during a mission.

"We like to be out here with civilians so that they can see what we do and they know what we do," Sgt. Kableman says. "We like to keep them back, keep them safe. Anything can happen out there in the water with these Marines. If something goes wrong, we can pluck them right out."

Troops operate nearly around the clock with different exercises that range through several different counties, using live-ammunition and explosive elements to fully engage communication between ground forces and aerial support.

"It’s a stressful environment," Lt. Col. Wagh says. "They don’t get a lot of sleep or eating out here. They do a lot of moving. They are working extremely hard, carrying 60-plus pounds, minimum, per soldier."

"I think we average about four and a half hours of sleep a night," Sgt. Kableman says. "We’ve been putting in some pretty long training days."

It’s real-world training that’s invaluable for everyone here.

"They’ve been an unbelievable headquarters to work with," Lt. Col. Wagh says. "They get out here and do this multiple times, rehearse it and execute live so it’s the pointy end of the spear."

"We have to get back to the decisive action environment that we were all very familiar with many years ago, Cold War era, and got away from. It’s fundamental."