Military operations at the North Vernon Municipal Airport have increased as preparations are underway for a major training exercise at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville.

The exercise, named Guardian Response, begins April 16 and ends May 14.

“Our airport neighbors are always the first to know when there is training at the MUTC,” airport director Ryan Curry said.

He said the airport routinely supports military and civilian aircraft used in year-round special-forces training and other military and civilian events at MUTC.

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“This exercise coming up is a major national training event for the military and civilian emergency response teams. From now until the exercise ends, both air and ground activity is going to steadily increase for the airport and for our neighbors,” Curry said.

During Guardian Response, in addition to supporting increased aircraft activity the airport will also be involved in ground activities.

More than 5,000 members of the military and civilian personnel will be stationed at the North Vernon Airport’s Contingency Operating Base Panther, the Jennings County Fairgrounds and Camp Atterbury, which is near Edinburgh. Daily, exercise participants will be transported from those sites to and from MUTC.

Operated by the Indiana National Guard in conjunction with the city of North Vernon, the COB Panther area at the edge of the airport grounds was designed as a staging area for large exercises at MUTC.

Black Hawk helicopters are already flying in and out of COB Panther and rows of military trucks and civilian vehicles fill the grounds around COB Panther.

Curry mused it is ironic that the North Vernon airport is serving as support for military operations because it was originally built by the federal government during World War II. The airport was first designed as an adjunct to Army flight operations at Freeman Airfield in Seymour.

In 1948, the federal government ceded the airport to North Vernon, and has since been maintained by the city as a municipal airport.

Located on 800 acres just three miles northeast of North Vernon, the airport operates two runways and can easily accommodate C-130 military aircraft, most civilian business jets and turbo-prop aircraft. With special arrangements, larger aircraft can be accommodated on the airport’s 5,000 foot-long runway.

“Whether it’s the (Navy) SEALs or the special forces from Fort Campbell, when those guys come here they are not coming for fun. They are here to train in certain skill sets that will affect world events. I like to believe, in some small way, we are contributing to that cause,” Curry said.