Red Flag-Alaska affords Airmen experience of a lifetime

A U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 16, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Douglas Ellis)

A U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 16, 2017. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis)

U.S. Air Force aircraft sit on the flight line during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 19, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

U.S. Air Force aircraft sit on the flight line during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 19, 2017. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 16, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Douglas Ellis)

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 16, 2017. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis)

U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Lt. Col. Ryan Ley, assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron prepares for a flight on an F-16 during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 16, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Haley D. Phillips)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Ley, a fighter pilot assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron prepares for a flight on an F-16 during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 16, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Haley D. Phillips)

U.S. Air Force fighter pilots assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron walk onto the flight line during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 June 16, 2017, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Haley D. Phillips)

U.S. Air Force fighter pilots assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron walk onto the flight line during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 16, 2017. RED FLAG-Alaska provides an optimal training environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and focuses on improving ground, space, and cyberspace combat readiness and interoperability for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Haley D. Phillips)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alas. -- The Alaskan summer sky dims only slightly as Airmen and aircraft from a myriad of countries pack up their gear, preparing to depart for their respective homes. 

Approximately 1,500 personnel and more than 100 aircraft from the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, Denmark, Thailand and other nations participated in more than 300 flight hours of challenging training during RED FLAG-Alaska 17-2.

“We flew a lot,” said Capt. Brian Farmer, Delta-Flight Commander of the 25th Fighter Squadron and A-10 pilot. “Just being able to integrate with a large force exercise and seeing the integration execution between escorting, suppression of enemy air-defenses, airlifts and everything else coming together was a great experience.”

RF-A is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. and international forces flying under simulated air combat conditions. It is conducted on the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex with air operations flown primarily out of Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Maj. Ito Kei, a pilot in the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, found value in the expansive training range. “The training areas in Alaska are really huge, so we can fly with fewer restrictions compared to Japan. And in the areas, there are assets such as ground to air missiles and bombing ranges. So under this environment, we can train ourselves more practically.”

“The size and scope of the airspace, combined with fewer restrictions, allows pilots to realistically employ their aircraft and execute tactics as they would in war,” said Maj. Zach Fennell, a 353rd Combat Training Squadron range division assistant director of operations. “These things are what separates RED FLAG-Alaska from other exercises.”

The expansive training range allows for a full-scale integration of all multinational forces in attendance.

“One of the big lessons we get out of Red Flag is learning how to integrate with other assets, so when you go into a combat scenario it’s not the first time you’ve worked with that country, service or airframe,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Randey Kinsey, a 353rd CTS range division assistant director of operations. “It gives you a better idea of what the capabilities of their personnel and their equipment.”

Capt. Jun-Mo Yang, a KF-16 pilot in the Republic of Korea Air Force, echoed this sentiment. “The exercise is important in the sense that we get to experience beforehand scenarios that are similar to ones that we will face during wartime. Additionally, the ROKAF and USAF pilots build friendships and trust that will be most critical in executing future combined operations.”

The exercise, while beneficial for aircrew members of many nations, also had benefits for the flightline personnel of all the participating countries. Senior Airman Eric Florez-Meza, an F-16 avionics technician for the 36th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said he had the experience of his professional lifetime.

“Not only did I learn new things, but I also got to participate in debriefings and directly interact with the pilots,” Florez-Meza said. “It gave me better insight in what they do. It was an amazing experience.”

Overall, the participants enjoyed RF-A, and they thanked their Alaskan hosts for the opportunity.

“Setting everything up and putting everything together with the amount of units Eielson and Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson accommodated for, I would say both bases did a really good job with this exercise,” Farmer concluded.