by Airman 1st Class John Hillier
188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Note: Pictured is A-10C 216.
5/22/2012 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Airmen with the 188th Fighter Wing participated here in a joint-service training exercise at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., April 30 through May 10. The exercise, known as Green Flag East helped A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog" aircrew and maintainers hone their combat skills while working alongside other Airmen and U. S. Army troops in a realistic training environment.
The primary objective of Green Flag East was to prepare the 188th for its upcoming Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotation to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). This will be the 188th's second combat deployment in the A-10C.
The 188th's last AEF tasking occurred in 2010 when the unit deployed approximately 300 operations, maintenance and support personnel to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, also in support of OEF.
"Close-air support is the most common mission we do," said Lt. Col. Brian T. Burger, 188th Operations Group commander."But we don't often get an opportunity to be out there in an unfamiliar environment with Army maneuver units. This exercise helped make sure we're ready to execute when we go downrange."
Burger said the 188th is using the lessons learned at Green Flag East to prepare for their upcoming AEF deployment to Afghanistan. Participating in the exercise exposed 188th pilots to a wide variety of realistic scenarios they are likely to see during their deployment, he said.
"There's not too much our pilots haven't seen training in our own area," Burger said. "The ability to go out into an area that our pilots aren't familiar with gives us an extra measure of difficulty that is good for us to overcome."
Burger said many of the scenarios pilots experienced involved close-air support missions but they also had the chance to work with the Army in combat search and rescue, and direct action with Special Forces units.
Maj. Chris Simpson, who served as the 188th's project officer for Green Flag East, said learning to work in a joint environment was a primary objective during the exercise. Simpson added that A-10s are just one of the many air assets available to commanders downrange, so there's a high likelihood that pilots from the 188th will be participating in coordinated attacks.
Green Flag East is one of the final steps in the deployment preparation process and functions as follow-on training to Operation Snowbird. The 188th deployed approximately 300 Airmen to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Feb. 11-26 to participate in Operation Snowbird.
The 188th dropped myriad live munitions at Snowbird that it doesn't have opportunity to accomplish at Razorback Range, including GBU-38 JDAMs, GBU-12 LGBs, MK-82s, MK-66 rockets and AGM-65 Mavericks. The 188th also fired 30 MM rounds from the A-10's GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun.
Green Flag East integrated the training logged at Snowbird and incorporated new elements in order to execute a more realistic wartime scenario and generate a more authentic battle rhythm.
Simpson said the 188th also conducted live firing on moving targets and strafing runs as well as coordinated attacks with Army AH64D Apache and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters while participating in Green Flag East.
Airmen from the 188th trained at Green Flag East in conjunction with elements of the 101st Airborne Division, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron and 5th Special Forces Group during the exercise.
Burger said that in addition to valuable training and vital preparation for its upcoming deployment, another prime consideration for the 188th at Green Flag East was the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Rather than send eight or 10 aircraft to Barksdale AFB, along with the maintenance and support personnel that perform ground support for the jets, pilots took off from Fort Smith, conducted training scenarios, and then returned to Fort Smith the next day. Only about 20 Airmen from the 188th were required on site at Barksdale AFB.
In 2010, the 188th deployed approximately 300 Airmen to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to participate in Green Flag West in preparation for its AEF deployment to Kandahar.
Burger said the 188th's decision to participate in Green Flag East this time saved the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, and taxpayers, a substantial amount of money.
"This is a small-footprint operation for us," Burger said. "A typical complement for eight or 10 aircraft would consist of a much larger group of people. With us being located so close, it makes the exercise very efficient on cost."
Another way the 188th was able to cut training costs for the exercise was through extensive use of teleconferencing. Burger said that following each scenario, all participants went through an extensive debriefing, in which they discussed the scenario, and searched for ways to improve their performance.
Burger said the video and data link capabilities available at the 188th allowed intelligence and operations staff to take part in the debriefing from Fort Smith, and not require them to be on site in Louisiana.