Saturday, April 25, 2009

442nd pilots, maintainers conduct joint training at Salina, Kan.

A pilot in A-10C 79-0119 from the 303rd Fighter Squadron, 442nd Fighter Wing, fires the plane's 30-mm cannon at a target on the Smoky Hill Range near Salina, Kansas, Oct. 16, 2008, during a past exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Huntington) Hi-res

by Senior Airman Danielle Wolf
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/24/2009 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- When Citizen Airmen of the 442nd Fighter Wing deploy for combat operations, they serve - and fight - alongside military members from a variety of sources, including the Army and Air National Guard, regular Air Force, and even with people from other, allied nations.

These operations, known as "combined" or "joint," are more and more common and finding opportunities to train in a joint environment is crucial in preparing for combat operations. However, those opportunities can be difficult to obtain.

Recently, Citizen Airmen from the 442nd Maintenance Group deployed to Salina, Kan., for an exercise with the Kansas Air National Guard, Regular Air Force and Army National Guard. A-10 pilots from the 442nd FW's 303rd Fighter Squadron flew from Whiteman Air Force Base to practice firing the plane's 30-milimeter cannon and dropping munitions on Smoky Hill Range.

Pilots were able to land and tactically turn the jets at the nearby Salina Airport, fly training missions over the range again, then return to Whiteman because of the maintenance crews deployed to Salina to service the aircraft.

The pilots spent a week practicing at Smoky Hill Range, 10 miles from the Great Plains Joint Training Center (GPJTC) located at the Salina Airport. The center affords both military and civilian organizations an opportunity to train in a joint environment using real-world technology to train and respond to military and civilian emergency-response missions. In short, the GPJTC's objective is to provide real training for the real world.

"Centered on the facilities at the Kansas Regional Training Center, Salina Municipal Airport and the Smoky Hill Weapons Range, the GPJTC offers outstanding capabilities for conducting joint training," said Colonel James Mackey, 442nd vice wing commander and coordinator for the week of training.

The Smoky Hill range offers 36,000 acres for combined-arms training, allowing pilots the opportunity to team up with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) for their missions. The pilots and JTACs were given scenarios similar to situations encountered while deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The scenarios included helicopter flight operations, cordoned searches, hitting high-value targets and engaging close-air-support targets using the 442nd Fighter Wing's A-10s.

"We were able to work with each other on a tactical level," said Lt. Col. Jeffry Jordan, Commander of the Kansas Air National Guard's 284th Air Support Operations Squadron, which provided the JTACs for the exercise. "(The troops on the ground) started coming under fire and we had to call in the mighty A-10s."

In a deployed, combat location, pilots would normally have JTACs on the ground to act as liaisons between themselves and the ground commander.

A JTAC is responsible for the safety of friendly forces and controlling warplanes to engage an enemy target. The JTAC clears airspace by de-conflicting other aviation traffic, as well as artillery fire from the ground. JTACs also ensure friendly troops are outside the CAS asse'ts bomb fragmentation area and finally inform pilots of the target location - as well as when to fire.

In normal training missions from Whiteman however, the A-10 pilots rarely have anyone on the ground. While they stay proficient at hitting targets, pilots don't get the experience of communicating with JTACs on the ground as they would on a combat mission.

During normal training sorties the pilots fly to the range, fire training rounds and return.

"If we go to Smoky Hill during the week, we only get about 20 minutes of target practice because of the travel time," said Maj. Shad Magann, a 303rd FS A-10 pilot. "But by being in Salina already, we were able to get about an hour of practice each time."

Colonel Mackey said, "Training there allows us to go to a different range and find new targets that we don't use day to day."

In the two hours between sorties, the 442nd maintainers worked to refuel and prepare the A-10s for the next mission. Using Maintenance from the wing allowed crews to "tactically turn," meaning the A-10s were loaded with bombs, fuel and bullets for a follow-on mission.

During that time, pilots and JTACs met and talked about the previous training missions. They were able to watch weapons videos, analyze objectives and discuss the missions from their perspectives.

"We've never really been able to debrief like this," Major Magann said. "Normally it's by phone or radio, or we try to catch up with them at the end of the week but they aren't always able to come to Whiteman to debrief with us. This way though, we were able to meet face-to-face and find out what works and what doesn't work."

Major Magann said this shows both the pilots and the JTACs a different perspective, educating each party about their capabilities and the limitations.

"This is similar to how we operate in Afghanistan," Colonel Mackey said. "We used the assets we had, and it turned into a great training opportunity for everybody."

"The value of this mission was immeasurable," Colonel Jordan said. "In Salina we were able to execute our mission plan and debrief with everyone at once."

Colonels Mackey and Jordan said they are hoping to continue joint-training missions in the future at the Salina facilities and would like to eventually have permanent-party, civilian maintainers in Salina ready to take on the military missions.

"It's a great facility that they have invested a lot of money in and has a lot of programs," Colonel Mackey said. "Joint training is difficult to find and using the Salina Airport to tactically turn from provides us that opportunity. On this exercise alone, we worked jointly with the 10th ASOS from Fort Riley, (Kan.), the 116th ASOS from the Washington Air National Guard, the new 284th ASOS from Kansas Air National Guard, and the HH-60s from the Kansas Army Guard."

Crew Chief Randy Julien, who went on the trip to help launch and maintain the aircraft, agreed that it would be beneficial to have permanent maintainers at the facility.

"They would be able to fly the missions to Salina without pre-planning," Julien said. "They wouldn't have to rely on anybody else."

Instead, he said, the 303rd FS would be able to set its own schedule and determine the most convenient times to do weekly missions at Smoky Hill Range, without concern for the availability of the maintainers.

"(Previous programs) have given us the opportunity to integrate, but those have gone away," Major Magann said. "We are starting to lose knowledge and integration with the Army. But eventually, it would be nice to see this kind of thing happening several times a week; it would be the best solution to maintain integration."

Brigadier General Michael Longoria, commander of the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing, based at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., visited the exercise and commented on the positive training.

"I was deeply impressed with the exercise and the JTAC pilot debrief," he said. "I have full confidence in the program's success and applaud the dedication to provide leading-edge training to our war fighters."

The 303rd has intentions to return to Salina in July for additional training.


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