by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs
8/24/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The
Pacific Air Forces' area of responsibility is home to 60 percent of the
world's population, comprising 36 nations spread over 52 percent of the
Earth's surface. PACAF is charged with promoting peace, prosperity and
stability across the entire domain.
Enter Red Flag Alaska: a coalition exercise testing the capabilities of
air forces from around the world in high-stakes aerial combat
situations. Red Flag gives aircrews their first 10 simulated combat
missions. During the Vietnam War, studies showed that the first 10
combat missions for aircrews were the ones where they are most likely to
be shot down.
Red Flag Alaska 15-3 is the largest of the year and one of the most complex ever conducted.
The exercise includes more than 80 different aircraft spread between
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base, with seven
Pacific flags represented: the United States, Australia, Britain, New
Zealand, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
"Everyone has to work together to get the mission done," said Master
Sgt. Phillip Sawin, 354th Operations Group Detachment 1 maintenance
superintendent. "You'll see not only are we helping all the foreign
units, but you'll see the foreign units helping each other. It's really a
great visual of the interoperability and cooperation that happens
This year, that cooperation links the ground and the skies. Japanese
paratroopers jumped out of U.S. C-130 Hercules for the first time and
U.S. Army Soldiers honed their skills jumping out of Australian C-130s.
One of the U.S. Soldiers to fly with the Aussies was Staff Sgt. Colton
Hurley, a jumpmaster with B Company, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th
Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry
"I like the way they interacted with us. Communication was top-notch.
They showed us how they did things and then asked us what we needed to
make sure we executed our mission according to our standards," Hurley
said. "As a Soldier about to jump out of an aircraft, it gives me a lot
of confidence to know they know what they're doing and that our
procedures are so similar. It builds trust, which is critical for
real-world mission success."
The Red Flag deployed forces commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew
Campbell said the scale of the exercise offers unmatched training
"One of the great things about Red Flag 15-3 is the number of
international partners we have here," Campbell said. "Our ability to
come out here, join forces and operate in a high-end combat environment
with everything the Red Flag infrastructure offers us is an incredible
opportunity to theater security out here in the Pacific."
The U.S. and its international partners are conducting several different
types of scenarios designed to improve interoperability.
"We have defensive counter-air scenarios where they practice defense
against a large-scale air attack," said Lt. Col. Dylan Dylan
Baumgartner, 354th Operations Group Detachment 1 commander. "There are
also offensive counter-air scenarios, practicing taking the fight to the
enemy: taking down their air defenses and fighting their way into enemy
airspace, while protecting themselves from enemy air defenses."
Several of the participating nations' aircrews spoke highly of the
opportunity to come together with coalition partners to hone their
"One of the biggest things we're looking for is the interoperability we
get with the other pacific nations," said Squadron Leader Scott Harris,
Detachment C, 84th Wing, Royal Australian Air Force, commander. "That is
very important when it comes to things like humanitarian assistance and
natural-disaster relief. It's been good for the Royal Australian Air
Force. We've learned a lot of lessons. Our crews have done really well.
They've pulled their socks up on the operational and maintenance side as
"It's a capability test for us," Harris continued. "What we're looking
for is to really test the guys in a radar-threat environment. We want to
make sure the maintainers can support our rate of effort that we fly
when we're here."
Building integration, interoperability and cross-cultural competence is
one of the primary goals of Red Flag and other multinational PACAF
Red Flag is a culmination of exercises like Cope North and Cope Tiger
that happen every year, with many of the same countries and faces in
Those exercises, while smaller in scale, help everyone execute at a much
higher level during Red Flag Alaska, Campbell said. Everyone comes
together and practices their craft in a world-class training facility
with a much larger force to capitalize on all those lessons learned.
That facility includes the Joint Alaska Pacific Range Complex, composed
of 67,000 square miles of what Campbell called "the best training space
in the world for anyone who flies airplanes in combat."
Participating in an exercise the size of Red Flag affords many unique
opportunities to all countries in attendance, but particularly to those
not used to flying in large formations or with a multitude of advanced
and dynamic aircraft like the U.S.'s fifth-generation fighter, the F-22
"The most interesting thing for us is learning how compose a large
flying package that involves many different types of aircraft," said
Senior Group Capt. Wachira Roengrit, Royal Thai Air Force's Red Flag
15-3 Detachment commander. "The big takeaways for us are the
improvements to our low-altitude flying techniques and knowledge on how
to best build packages for airdrop. This large force employment is the
biggest we participate in. We have many exercises in our country, but
Red Flag is the most important one for our C-130 guys."
Working together to ensure seamless integration of tactics, techniques
and procedures is a goal set from day one at Red Flag Alaska.
"Over the years we've done a lot of work to make sure our doctrine is
pretty similar," Harris said. "So, it's actually quite an easy thing for
us to operate with each other. Procedures are very similar."
Those similar procedures were crucial to the success of the Australian-led drop of U.S. Army Soldiers.
"Quite a bit of planning went into the front end of it," said Warrant
Officer Ken Rodney, Royal Australian Air Force C-130J loadmaster. "It
was a unique experience to get to brief with our the U.S. jumpmasters
and jump safeties. It was great to do it with another nation like the
United States. It really showcased our interoperability to have U.S.
Army Soldiers jumping out of our birds. It went quite smoothly."
While the airborne contingent of the exercise is working through their
hurdles and challenges, the same interoperability and cross-culture
cooperation is happening on the ground with maintenance. With many
nations traveling great distances to attend, only so many parts and
supplies can travel with them.
"They try to bring as much as they can, coming from distant lands,"
Sawin said. "A lot of the small parts and pieces we can get for them.
Bigger things like props and engines have to be shipped. That's when our
travel management office and supply guys step in and help get supplies
shipped. The maintenance piece is very much a joint multinational effort
to make sure everyone's planes stay in fight."
The success flying and maintenance operations are enjoying is made
possible largely by the personal relationships forged between the men
and women, hailing from different corners of the world, according to
many of the countries spokespersons.
"Exercises like Red Flag support theater security cooperation,
particularly with regard to personal relationships we develop," Campbell
said. "The relationships we build throughout the year at these other
exercises enable us to have success during real world operations."
Campbell's Australian counterpart, Squadron Leader Harris, agreed with that assessment.
"The interrelations are very important," Harris said. "From the mission
planning side of the house, good relationships are absolutely a key
enabler to making this thing work. A lot of the time, it's the
personalities in the room that make the missions come off without a
"Around the Pacific rim, when we have things go wrong like in the 2013
Philippines disaster, we see each other all the time. The relationships
we make in exercises like Red Flag pay massive dividends later when we
need to talk to each other and provide assistance around the world,"
Some of the JBER Airmen are going so far as to help advise partner
nation participants on the best fishing holes for their off duty time.
"My favorite part is the camaraderie," Sawin said. "Everyone is happy.
People seem to really enjoy Alaska. I advised the Australians on what
river to go to for the best fishing and which lures work best. They came
back the next day and were excited they had caught a fish. The Thais
even cooked it up for them. That spirit of friendship is just awesome."
Red Flag organizers are planning an end of exercise party to help cement relations.
"We're going to cook up a big feast," Sawin said. "We not only talk
about work, but we talk about our respective countries and heritage.
It's really great to see. All the different units will bring an
assortment of food from their native country. It's a great experience."
While aircrews from all the nations are honing their skill, fostering
interoperability and improving cross-cultural competence, while at the
same time having fun, the bigger strategic picture of why Red Flag
exists is not lost on them.
"I absolutely believe these kinds of exercise like Red Flag and all the
others PACAF and PACOM put together where we go out and engage with our
Pacific partners are the foundation of the peace, prosperity and
stability millions of people enjoy."
Red Flag began Aug. 6, and is slated to conclude Saturday.