JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSO, Alaska --
Several F-15 Eagles and over 150 Airmen from the 144th Fighter Wing, from Fresno, California, participated in Red Flag Alaska 18-3 for four weeks during August and September along with military units from across the country. and the world.
Red Flag Alaska is a regularly scheduled training exercise that provides pilots, air crews, maintainers, and support personnel necessary experience within a joint coalition tactical air combat environment.
One of the areas of focus for the training is providing pilots with additional combat experience so that they are able to sharpen their skills and more seamlessly operate in a joint coalition environment.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cesar Gonzales, 144th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, described the maintenance group’s role in that mission and how the Airmen feel about that responsibility.
"These sorties matter to the pilots and these sorties matter to the maintainers. When we lose a line really, everyone understands that we just lost an opportunity for a pilot to gain proficiency for him to go to war," said Gonzalez. "That means a lot. It’s personal for us. We’re going to try to do whatever we can to make sure the pilots get that opportunity."
Lt. Col. Russ Piggott, 194th Fighter Squadron, 144th FW, pilot, praised the maintenance group for providing mission-capable jets.
"The maintenance team has been delivering the number of jets that we need consistently, and our mission capability rate is second to none," said Piggott. "That has allowed the pilots to be able to fly our missions and get the training that we need to be able to provide air superiority anywhere in the world, any time."
Involvement in a Red Flag exercise is one of the requirements for a military unit to have the status of fully mission capable.
Staff Sgt. Michael Ahrens, 144th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, said, "Being able to mobilize with multiple aircraft successfully and have the fully mission capable rate that we have is an accomplishment in itself."
Airman 1st Class Jake Curtis, Aircraft Fuel Systems apprentice, also emphasized the importance of keeping jets mission capable while having a limited number of aircraft. He explained that all maintenance must be completed before the pilots are scheduled to fly. If a jet breaks, a pilot will miss that opportunity.
"You do not have a back-up," said Airman 1st Class Curtis. "It makes you more determined."
Missions like Red Flag Alaska add valuable experience for everyone involved, especially the pilots.
"They need proficiency up in the air in these large force employments that have so many aggressors, so many fighter jets, so many things that we just can’t replicate in Fresno," said Lt. Col. Gonzalez.
Dr. (Maj.) Benjamin Bonnes, 144th Fighter Wing flight surgeon, described the high level of activity that he experienced during the exercise.
"This has been one of the most dense operational environments I’ve been in on an exercise with a variety of crews from other countries, a variety of other air frames," said Bonnes. "I’ve had the opportunity to see some of their people both professionally, but also as a flight surgeon, flying along on their aircraft and seeing how they operate."
The volume of activity and the level of training make Red Flag a truly unique training experience.
"Our operations tempo for the last several years has been high, but our success is proven in missions like these," said Lt. Col. Piggott.
A Red Flag exercise is known for its high level of operations and multiple airframes. The 144th FW’s F-15 Eagles flew with F-22s, F-16s, and KC-135s, in addition to other aircraft, performing both combat training and refueling missions. This iteration of Red Flag included units from the U.S., as well as, units from Australia and Great Britain.
Dr. Bonnes said, "It basically taxes all of us at a high level and hones our skills so that we can operate 100% when needed."