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Luke team trains for combat at Red Flag-Alaska

April 12, 2007 (by TSgt. Scott Farrow) - Airmen from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., recently deployed as mission ready warfighters to participate in Red Flag-Alaska, a multi-service, multi-platform coordinated, combat operations exercise.

Airmen from the 61st FS catch Luke based F-16D block 25 #84-1330 on the flightline at Eielson AFB during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 on April 11th, 2007. [USAF photo by TSgt. William Farrow]

Thirteen instructors pilots, six operations support staff and more than 64 maintainers made the 2,600 mile trek to take part in the two-week long exercise which enables aviation units to sharpen combat skills by flying simulated combat sorties in a realistic threat environment and maintaining the aircraft under expeditionary conditions.

Additionally, the training allows pilots to exchange tactics, techniques, and procedures and improve interoperability, which is right up the alley for the Luke instructor pilots who teach the basics of F-16 flying and integration at Luke.

"Most of the students we teach have been flying for the Air Force for about a year and-a half," explained Capt. William McKibban, 61st Fighter Squadron instructor pilot.

"Their course is about six to nine months with us, then they go to their first combat squadron, so we take them to the next level (although its not nearly the end of the line)," he said.

Captain McKibban said although they teach qualified fighter pilots to be flight leads and instructors, a lot of their time at Luke is spent focusing on Airmen just out of pilot training, and that's why its such a thrill for them to be able to participate in RED FLAG-Alaska

"The best part of this blue training is that this is what we teach and if we fly as red air (opposition forces), we replicate and fly with cuffs," he said.

Although Luke units have participated as Red Air from time-to-time in other Alaskan exercises, to his knowledge, this is the first time a unit from Luke has flown as the "good guys."

"Flying as Blue Air (coalition forces) allows us the chance to hone our skills as instructors," he said. "It's a great break from the "same old"'s a new challenge."

Aviators aren't the only members of the Luke team to say they are getting a lot out of the exercise. Explaining that day-to-day work at any home station can become routine, 1st. Lt. Sarah Ziegler, 61st FS maintenance officer in charge, said it's good to get away to different scenery and a change of pace.

"Being part of RED FLAG-Alaska brings us closer to carrying out the fight, and the expeditionary mindset is different from what we experience day to day," she said.
"It is great to work in a multinational and joint environment and to know that we are a part of the big picture mission of preparing an expeditionary fighting force."

After attending the RED FLAG-Alaska Planning Conference in January, Lieutenant Ziegler said her unit began putting our plans into action to get ready for the exercise.

She said that pulling people from the Luke flight line to take part in the exercise has put a strain on those left behind. "Back home we are still flying 14 sorties daily, so it's a tough balance between supporting the deployment and the mission back home."

However, she said the experiences gained here are invaluable.

"Our maintainers have to generate sorties while working with limited resources, so the sense of pride is even greater when our jets take off to join the fight," she said.

"For some of our younger Airmen, this is the first time they are seeing how the AEF concept works so it is very valuable training for their future."

Courtesy of 354th Fighter Wing public affairs

Additional images:

USAF F-16D block 25 #84-1330 from the 61st FS sits on the flight line during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 on April 10th, 2007. [USAF photo by SSgt. Joshua Strang]
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