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Green Flag preps Tigers for deployment

July 28, 2009 (by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson) - The 79th Fighter Squadron "Tigers" from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., flew in a two-week Green Flag exercise to prepare for their deployment to Afghanistan in October.

Maintainers conduct end-of-runway checks on F-16C block 50 #00-0222 from the 79th FS before it takes off during a Green Flag exercise on July 23rd, 2009. The 79th FS 'Tigers' participated in Green Flag to prepare for their deployment to Afghanistan in October. [USAF photo by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson]

"We've been doing two weeks of Air Expeditionary Force training," said Lt. Col. Ken Eckman, 79th FS commander. "This is the one exercise Air Combat Command sets up for us before we deploy."

Colonel Eckman has nine months of real-world close air support experience under his belt due to his previous deployments to Balad Air Base in northern Iraq.

"The Green Flag staff has been outstanding," he said. "They have very experienced CAS personnel in their unit, which has made the training very relevant."

According to Colonel Eckman, the pilots, as they fly, communicate directly with Army ground forces on a Nevada range in order for both parties to experience the process of calling in and delivering CAS.

"This isn't just about us," Colonel Eckman said. "This is about the almost 10,000 Army guys out in the training range, and this is their preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom."

This Green Flag, the Tigers dropped both live and inert munitions. As of Wednesday, he said the tally of full-scale weapons dropped over the two-week period amounted to 26.

"Guys are having their eyes opened about what CAS is," he said. "They're making mistakes, and learning from them. I would rather they make the mistakes now, instead of later."

Pilots aren't the only Airmen on the flight line who need to prepare for the deployment. Maintainers on the ground also benefit from the experience Green Flag has to offer.

"The overall mission of Green Flag is to prepare for deployment," said 1st Lt. Chris Clark, 79th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer in charge. "The tempo and the number of sorties is different because we fly from an air tasking order here, versus a normal schedule back home."

Just as the pilots gain experience dropping live munitions, the maintenance Airmen practice loading and arming live weapons on the F-16CJs.

"Green Flag allows us to practice battle rhythm, jets going up and landing, and to practice our turns," Lieutenant Clark said. "What's important is the timeline, the time in between jets flying."

When the Tigers deploy to Afghanistan, they will deploy with the 336th Fighter Squadron "Chiefs" from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles.

Between the two squadrons, aircraft will be in the sky 24/7, said Lieutenant Clark, supporting troops on the ground should they encounter enemy forces and need to call for CAS. Maintainers will be critical to supporting this high operations tempo, fixing and refueling the jets as they turn from one sortie to the next.

"Hours are a lot different here," said Senior Airman Bryan Timmons, 79th AMU crew chief. "And it's a lot hotter."

Longer hours and hotter days have made for a prime training environment for maintainers, because that's exactly what they'll face in Afghanistan.

For their next stop, the Tigers are scheduled for a week of training with the Chiefs at Seymour Johnson. This preparation will be instrumental in preparing the two units for their four-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Courtesy of Red Flag Public Affairs

Additional images:

USAF F-16D block 50 #91-0468 from the 79th FS is prepared for a Green Flag night mission on July 23rd, 2009. The F-16D model has a front and back seat to allow an instructor or observer to ride. In this case, 1st Lt. Carolyn Winn, 79th FS director of intelligence, is in the back seat for a first-hand look at what pilots encounter at Green Flag. [USAF photo by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson]