Virgina sailors visit Eielson to work with joint service, experience Alaska

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gloria Wilson
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Joint and coalition combat operations are prevalent in today's world and exercises such as Red Flag-Alaska are vital training opportunities structured to achieve success and cohesiveness in real-world missions.

Although the fight here at Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 is simulated, U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Squadron Eight Seven's (VFA-87) trip to participate wasn't.

Home stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, VFA-87 took full advantage of the training Red Flag-Alaska offers and immersed themselves in the various experiences available in Alaska.

"This was a great opportunity for us to come up and work in a large force exercise with our Air Force and coalition partners," said Navy Cmdr. Frank Morley VFA-87 commanding officer. "We have gotten along great with everyone on everything from working with people, planning with them and even in social settings."

Commitment to Red Flag-Alaska came late in the game for VFA-87 so they had to work fast to ensure they came with everything they needed, but hastily packaging their deployment didn't stop their enthusiasm.

"Having to pull this off on short notice was not easy and it took a lot of work--especially from our maintenance personnel--but everyone jumped to the challenge and task at hand," said Navy Lt. Frank Weisser, squadron pilot and detachment coordinator.

"When it was all said and done, and we had a chance to catch our breaths, the awesome experience of being here--participating, learning and enjoying Alaska in general--made it all worthwhile."

Fifteen Navy pilots and 85 maintenance and support personnel brought with them six F-18 Hornets, a semi-truck load of equipment, minds ready to learn and an appetite for adventure.

Lieutenant Weisser said the opportunity, especially for the junior pilots, was great because they are able to take part in something and watch it go from the building blocks all the way through an entire event and, in the process, see what strategies are involved and what the bigger picture is.

Yet even with all the training benefits, he said he believes the best experience for their squadron was for their 85 sailors.

"You may often hear that people join the Navy to see the world and yes our sailors see many foreign ports, but not much of America, and from my perceptive it's neat for them to get to know their own country better."

Commander Morley reiterated the importance of the sailors and their squadron as a whole and thought it was great that the sailors were taking their time off on weekends to experience Alaska sometimes traveling as far as Denali and Valdez, which is over five hours away.

"Our people are very much one unit, so getting them what they need is a big priority," said Commander Morley. "We rented out the Iceman Falls on Easter, cooked dinner and went sledding and tubing on the sled hill. The personnel from the 354th Service Squadron were very easy to work with and the facility was outstanding. Since we have been here the Air Force has been great hosts."

From working in the same building with Air Force and coalition forces to seeing personnel whose faces and names become familiar off-duty, Commander Morley said it's always neat to get to talk to the different people involved.

"We all do things different and you can learn something from everyone you interact with," he said. "Hopefully we will all benefit and improve from the experience of working together."