by Capt. Lisa Kostellic
476th Fighter Group
2/7/2011 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- The 442nd Fighter Wing participated in Red Flag 11-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 24 to Feb. 4.
Established 36 years ago and conducted at least twice a year, Red Flag is a large-scale exercise involving a wide variety of war-fighting capabilities engaging in simulated combat training over a span of two weeks. Additionally, Red Flag involves not only U.S. military personnel and assets but also includes U.S. allied forces and their air assets as well.
Nellis AFB is the host to an exercise of this magnitude because it has the Nevada Test and Training Range, which is the U.S. Air Force's renowned military training area containing more than 12,000 miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land with nearly 2,000 potential targets. What makes the training area elite are the realistic threat systems and opposing "enemy" forces, called aggressors, providing Air Force participants the ultimate combat experience that cannot be replicated in any other peacetime environment.
"What they have here, you can't find anywhere else in the world apart from combat," said Maj. Kevin M. Boblet, 442nd Fighter Wing's Red Flag project officer and A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot. "Using a huge number of trained personnel, they present a scenario with a wide range of demands. The feedback we receive is priceless."
Major Boblet has been coordinating the wing's participation in Red Flag since April 2010. As acting detachment commander for the exercise, he facilitated the successful involvement of more than 180 wing personnel to include pilots, maintainers, life support technicians, intelligence specialists, logistics technicians and schedulers.
Red Flag involved a range of aircraft including attack, fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, airlift and aerial refueling. A typical day started with the air tasking order, which detailed the mission requirements for the next day's sorties. Once the ATO dropped, the deployed wing, or air expeditionary wing, went into action.
Pilots for each aircraft began planning their missions separately based upon their assigned air space and specific mission requirements. To ensure maximum mission success, the pilots, along with other operational support personnel, would meet in periodic coordination briefs throughout the day to synthesize their air efforts.
"A lot of coordination goes into one combat mission," Major Boblet said. "For example, the mission brief today had four coordination briefs preceding it."
While the operations personnel were mission planning diligently each day, maintenance and support personnel were doing their part to ensure every aircraft was fully operational and combat ready.
For the most part, it was business as usual for maintenance according to Tech. Sgt. Kenneth R. Campbell, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "As far as maintenance, it's work as normal, but I know the pilots are getting a lot of benefits out of this."
Sergeant Campbell said there was one enormous challenge for maintenance: Time management. He said something that would normally take an hour to get delivered at home could take up to six hours at Red Flag.
"Bombs are a good example. We'd load the day before at home, and here, we can't load any earlier than six hours prior to takeoff," Sergeant Campbell said. "Launch and recovery is normal, but when you need something extra, it's a challenge."
The wing's main purpose for participating in Red Flag 11-2 is to provide U.S. Air Force reservists the opportunity to prepare for war in the most realistic conditions.
Lt. Col. Brian K. Borgen, 303rd Fighter Squadron commander, said the A-10 community, in general, has been supporting a war with very little ground-to-air threats. Red Flag provides attack professionals with the opportunity to train in the most realistic and intense environment available to U.S. Air Force personnel.
"Red Flag provided valuable training for all aspects of our organization." Colonel Borgen said. "It's a lot of hard work and much different than flying at home station, but it's been a phenomenal experience."
The 442nd Fighter Wing, an A-10 Thunderbolt II Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., participated in Red Flag, an aerial-combat competition at Nellis AFB, Nev. Jan. 24 to Feb. 5, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tracy Brown) Hi-res
Note: Pictured is A-10C 79-0109 from the 303rd Fighter Squadron.