144th FW Airmen take advantage of valuable training at Red Flag 16-1

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Klynne Pearl Serrano
  • 144th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The ground shakes while the distinct sound of each aircraft taking off fills the air with loud roars. The atmosphere seems to vibrate--you can feel it all the way down to your toes. The sounds of freedom, they call it. But it's more than a sound ... it's a feeling of safety and pride.

Airmen assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing out of Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif. participated in Red Flag 16-1 Jan. 25 to Feb. 12 along with approximately 30 other units from the U.S. and allied nations.

Red Flag is an advanced multinational combat training exercise that provides realistic training in a peacetime environment.

"Red Flag provides a unique training opportunity," said U.S. Air Force Col. Derek France, 325th Fighter Wing commander and Red Flag 16-1 Air Expeditionary commander. "It develops threats and scenarios like none other and is the highest level of warfare training available."

With two scheduled launches daily, the Nellis AFB runway is busy.

"We're flying both day and night sorties to practice for any real combat environment and scenario that might creep up--it's a rehearsal for combat," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ben Leestma, 144th Fighter Wing pilot and Red Flag 16-1 project officer.

During the Red Flag exercise, the 144th FW pilots had the opportunity to play different roles: Red Air and Blue Air.

"Red Air replicates a bad guy aircraft," Leestma said. "Blue Air replicates us, the good aircraft. The blue air side allows us to go out and employ the Eagle to its full capability as far as sensors and missiles go. Typically in an ordinary sortie, the Blue and Red start at opposite ends of the runway, take off and we see who wins."

Though Leestma explained that Blue Air training is the better training out of the two, there is still a lot of planning and instructions that are required to be followed in both Red and Blue Air scenarios.

"The best training is in Blue air, which is what we're focused on here, but airmanship, flight discipline and safety are all key things that we practice each and every time we fly--Blue Air or not," Leestma said.

This exercise has given the 144th FW Airmen the opportunity to step up as a unit and learn to work better as a team. The relationship between the pilot and the crew chiefs has also grown from this experience.

"Developing that relationship with our crew chiefs is super cool," Leestma said. "Every time we step out to the jets, our crew chiefs greet us with a smile and he or she is so proud to give us their plane. It's a nice feeling. We're a big family working towards the same goal."

The 144th FW Airmen not only developed better relationships amongst each other, but also with the allied Air Forces who participated in Red Flag 16-1.

"For Red Flag 16-1, we have with us our partners from the United Kingdom and Australia," Leestma said. "The Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force have invested into this exercise just as much as every other unit has. They travelled across the pond to train here with us. They're here to learn from us just as much as we're here to learn from them."

"The crosstalk from all the mission planning, either inside or outside of the vault, to even having a beer at the end of the day--we've shared a lot of lessons learned specific to each sortie, but also just in general, on capabilities that they can bring to the fight and how we can mix together to have synergistic tactics," Leestma said.

With more than 3,000 individuals who partook in the Red Flag 16-1 exercise, there are more than 3,000 better trained individuals ready to survive, fight, and win together.