Friday, August 12, 2011

917th FG prepares for first combat deployment

by Senior Master Sgt. Jessica D'Aurizio
307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

8/12/2011 - EILSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The 917th Fighter Group, based at Barksdale AFB, La., and assigned to the 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman AFB, Mo., deployed here, Alaska, July 23 to Aug. 9 for an exercise, Operation Distant Frontier, to prepare for an upcoming air and space expeditionary rotation.

The deployment, called Operation Distant Frontier, was intended to help prepare the reservists for their upcoming air expeditionary force, scheduled for January 2012.

"This was the scrimmage before the game," said Lt. Col. Robert Hetland, A-10 Thunderbolt II weapons officer and project officer for the deployment. "The 47th Fighter Squadron, which falls under the 917th FG, has been a training squadron for over 15 years, and this deployment offers the opportunity for the Airmen to foster tactical skills and get in the mindset that will help them downrange."

Lt. Col. James Travis, the deployment commander, agreed this training is just what the squadron needed prior to their AEF rotation. The Alaska Range offered a different terrain for the pilots to train and allowed them to employ a variety of weapons for training. Training weapons included laser guided bombs, joint direct attack munitions, Mark 82s and 30mm rounds.

"We have mountains and hills at the Alaska range that offer a great simulation for our upcoming AEF," Hetland said.

In addition to the terrain and threat conditions, they are able to work with joint terminal attack controllers. These controllers tell the pilots where to put the weapons once forward deployed.

"We're in Alaska blocking, tackling and performing drills to perfect our abilities," Hetland said. "This is what it is all about. We train for war and wait for the day to put our skills to the test."

The 917th FG moved aircraft, approximately 150 personnel and multiple tons of equipment to simulate a real-world deployment.

" This operation was a test of our skills without having the support we are accustom to at home station." said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Thornton, maintenance project officer for Operation Distant Frontier. "We have sharpened our ability relying on technical data and system knowledge while providing first-class aircraft to meet all mission requirements. We did have a few challenges, but we have stepped up for those challenges."

The Distant Thunder deployment afforded the Citizen Airmen of the 917th FG an opportunity to train in conditions similar to those in the current area of responsibility.

"The opportunity to train with live munitions in mountainous terrain under challenging weather conditions was invaluable to our pilots for their AEF spin up," said Col. John Breazeale, 917th FG commander. "The total team effort would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of our maintenance and support team. I couldn't be prouder of our Airmen."


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