By Capt. Kinder L. Blacke, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 18, 2014
NELLIS AFB, Nev. -- Members of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, flew down to Nellis Air Force Base as the only National Guard unit to participate in Red Flag 14-01, January 23 through February 14, 2014.
Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving air assets from multiple branches of the US military and its allies. These large-scale exercises are typically held three times each year at Nellis' 2.9 million acre Nevada Test and Training Range.
Pilots, maintainers and various support personnel from the 140th Wing at Buckley AFB came to Red Flag to launch and fly their F-16 Fighting Falcons alongside the various other air assets that came to train, including several other fighter jets, intelligence platforms, electronic warfare assets, and more from around the world.
"It's one of few chances we get to integrate all these forces and fight the way the Air Force really fights when we go to a contested area," said Lieutenant Col. Marty Moser, Red Flag project officer for the 140 WG.
The exercise is designed to give mission planners a chance to coordinate all the air assets they would normally have in a combat scenario, in an effort to execute a specified air campaign, Moser explained.
"One of the biggest benefits of coming to Red Flag is that all of the toys you're usually simulating are actually here and you are employing with and against them," Moser said.
As an F-16 squadron flying Block 30 multirole aircraft, the "Redeyes" can do both air-to-ground and air-to-air missions. According to Moser, during a mission their goal is to conduct an air-to-ground strike, deep in an area defended by "red air" (the bad guys), and simulated surface to air missiles.
While the concept might seem simple, between mission planning, coordinating assets, executing the mission, and debriefing, the pilots' days grow to become extremely long and exhausting. But the Redeye's participation is integral to overall success.
"We fight our way into the contested target area, drop our bombs on the specified target, then fight our way back out," Moser explained.
And while the Colorado F-16's are only a small piece of the overall air campaign, they are critical members of the team accomplishing the mission objectives. "This exercise really helps everyone understand how they are integrated into the total force and see how everything fits together," said Moser.
Being the only National Guard unit to participate, Moser explained, also gives the wing the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities to the Active Duty and gain each other's confidence in the joint, total force environment.
Over the course of the three weeks of intense mission planning and executing, the various flying units obtain many important lessons learned.
"That's why we do these exercises," Moser explained, "so we can pull these lessons learned in a non-combat environment and we aren't forced to learn them in a combat environment."
Over the course of the past few wars, the unit's real-world missions have primarily been close air support, so "it's great to get the younger pilots experience in this type of environment," Moser said, "where you can conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground missions within a controlled scenario."
While the focus of Red Flag is largely on the pilots and air crews, no jet would be up in the air without support on the ground. Approximately 160 maintainers from the 140th Maintenance Group and various other support personnel accompanied the pilots to make sure the mission could be accomplished from a deployed location.
Crews maintained six jets and launched at least eight sorties daily, sometimes loading live weapons onboard between missions.
Maintaining jets at a base other than their own always presents challenges, however the maintenance group excelled, making the 120th Fighter Squadron one of very few units to never lose a sortie due to maintenance issues , according to Capt. Kevin Edling, who was the 140th Maintenance Squadron commander during the entire Red Flag 14-1 exercise.
Their success in launching jets "is directly attributed to the competence and technical expertise of our maintainers," said Edling. "They take ownership and pride in 'their' jets and it was a complete team effort that resulted in such success."
One of the biggest differences between the Active Duty and the National Guard is that in the Guard, Airmen can remain in the same unit for their entire career, rather than having to move every few years as in the Active Duty. Maintenance personnel can work on the same jets year after year, truly getting to know them inside and out and taking care of them as their own.
Because of this advantage, Edling considered Red Flag a wonderful opportunity for the 140 WG to shine. "We have so many diverse and experienced Airmen in the Guard that we naturally adapt and overcome obstacles because we have truly 'been there' and 'done that,'" he said.
Tech. Sgt. Jared McCartney, non-commissioned officer in charge of Aircrew Flight Equipment, 140th Operations Support Squadron, also acknowledges the benefit of being in a National Guard unit. "The advantage as a Guard unit is that we own our equipment... we have that pride in ownership and it shows in everything we do," he said, "even our pilots having the cleanest jets on the line, there is a lot of pride in that."
McCartney, who enjoyed his first opportunity to run the AFE shop during this exercise, had a great experience. "It's been good despite working long, twelve to thirteen hour days and being away from the family," he said, "but it's been a good trip and I have learned a lot."
"Running the shop is awesome and I have a great group of guys who make it pretty easy for me," McCartney explained. "Our night vision goggles are kept up, our helmets are clean, our masks are clean... pride in ownership is what we bring out here," he said of his crew's work.
McCartney has also appreciated being able to work side by side with several other AFE shops. "I've learned a lot seeing how other shops operate, how the Active Duty operates, how other services operate," he said. "We've been able to share little tips and secrets and check out each other's equipment so that we can all bring back new ideas and best practices."
To be able to bring back those lessons learned is what makes Red Flag and other exercises so valuable. From the pilots, to the maintainers, and the critical personnel in between, "everybody is really enthusiastic about the exercise itself," said Moser, who took full advantage of the opportunity to learn and improve his skills every day at Red Flag.
"What an awesome opportunity for our people," said Edling. "Our maintainers are IT professionals, commercial pilots, police officers, teachers, human resources professionals, mechanics, and we even have a principal, just to name a few [...] we truly are the citizen soldier," Edling said. These men and women are dual professionals and their vast capabilities show in their every endeavor, in uniform and out.
As the only Air National Guard unit to participate in Red Flag 14-1, the 140 WG represented proudly. Edling explained, "we delivered full mission capable combat aircraft to our pilots so they could 'Fly, Fight, and Win!' Mission accomplished."