Monday, January 12, 2015

U.S. Troops Resuming Atlantic Resolve Training in Eastern Europe

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2015 – U.S. Army troops resumed Operation Atlantic Resolve land-forces training of allied and partner forces this week as 75 Stryker combat vehicles arrived in Eastern Europe, Pentagon Press spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.

The training will take place in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Warren added, and continues to demonstrate U.S. commitment to NATO allies.

The Stryker combat vehicles are from U.S. Army Europe’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, elements of which will conduct training in Eastern Europe alongside soldiers from allied and partner nations, Warren said, adding that much of the training will focus on individual and team tasks.

Defense Department spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman said the training also will include combined, multinational platoon-level exercises and live fires involving a combination of vehicle and foot-soldier maneuvers.

Enhanced Multinational Training

According to Warren, “Since April 2014 the U.S. Army has conducted continuous, enhanced multinational training and security cooperation activities with allies and partners in the region due to increased regional tensions following Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.”

The Stryker combat vehicle is an eight-wheeled, air- and ground-transportable light-armored vehicle built for the Army by General Dynamics Land Systems. It has a Caterpillar engine, a 310-mile operational range, a 60-mile-an-hour top speed, and armor. Its primary armament is a Protector M-151 remote weapon station with one of two machine guns or an automatic grenade launcher.

Atlantic Resolve training involves about 550 European-based American personnel and 75 Stryker vehicles. The Stryker group is based in Germany.

Warren said elements from the Army 2nd Cavalry Regiment are replacing elements from the Army 173rd Airborne Brigade that were involved in Atlantic Resolve training before the holiday break. 2nd Cavalry elements will conduct training in the four countries until March 31, he said.

“There will be approximately one cavalry troop each in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,” Warren said, explaining that one cavalry troop has about 20 Stryker vehicles.

Training Regional Allies and Partners

Hillman said that while elements of 2nd Cavalry Regiment participate in Atlantic Resolve, the unit also will conduct a decisive-action, training-environment exercise called Saber Junction.

That exercise will take place, she said, in the German Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr training areas and in the Black Sea region, with U.S. soldiers working alongside those from more than a dozen other NATO and partner nations.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division -- the Army's regionally aligned force for Europe -- is expected to be the next rotational Atlantic Resolve unit when the 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s rotation ends.

The Army’s ongoing, enhanced training is supported by about $1 billion in funding from the European Reassurance Initiative, Hillman said.

This allocation is designed to enable DoD to continue efforts to reassure NATO allies, she added, and bolster the security and capacity of allies and partners in the region.

Airmen vie for top load-crew distinction

by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs

1/12/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "You just have to do it right and do it slow," said Airman 1st Class Dominic Hobbs, an aircraft armament systems specialist with the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

That advice works - as long as your definition of "slow" is less than 35 minutes.

When loading 2,000 lbs of explosives and hundreds of high-explosive incendiary rounds onto a $143 million jet, 35 minutes pass by very quickly.
JBER weapons load crews are evaluated on their efficiency, safety and competence every month.

Four times a year, the crews with the best records are selected to compete in a head-to-head load crew of the quarter competition, and the winners move on to vie for the coveted title: load crew of the year.

Hobbs and his two crewmates, Airman 1st Class Charles Pole, also an aircraft armament systems specialist, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Johnson, their load crew chief, participated in the quarterly competition Dec. 31, 2014.

Jets do not always have the same mission, so each load is different.

This means load crews must be able to expertly load a variety of weapons systems on their particular aircraft.

To that end, the crews are not informed what they will be loading until just minutes before they begin their timed trial.

"We're not unfamiliar with being evaluated," Pole explained. "But for this, I'm always nervous, though I get a little excited and giddy too.

"When it is time to start, all of that just goes away though."

"When you come into a load, it's almost like you have a shield around you that keeps everyone and all the pressure out," said Johnson, a native of Taylorsville, Utah. "As soon as something doesn't go the way it's supposed to, that's when things start hitting your shield and breaking holes
in it.

"That's when the pressure starts to come in."

And those shields will be tested; things don't always go smoothly when working with bombs and guns.

Johnson said the GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition attachment went well, and when considering a projected five-to-10 minute load of the M61A2 20-mm gun, they were on track for a 25-to-30 minute total time.

That would place them well under the 35-minute time frame they were allotted.

Hobbs and Pole wheeled the Universal Ammunition Loading System up to the side of the plane.

The UALS is a large wagon with hundreds of 20-mm rounds in a snake-like loading tube, which connects to the side of the aircraft.

It automatically feeds rounds into the aircraft with little need for human intervention.

At least that's what it's supposed to do.

Johnson hooked the UALS into place and began the loading process, expecting to see rounds pumping through the serpentine interface unit and disappearing into the aircraft.

Instead, the pressure that had been safely outside of his shields began to creep in as he saw rounds coming back out of the aircraft into a separate chute.
"Belts are in 500-round increments," Johnson explained. "Half the belt had already been fed through the aircraft, so we had to finish feeding the belt through so we could take everything off and follow the checklist."

A lever controls whether the rounds are loaded into the aircraft or pass through like a belt with no buckle.

Typically the lever is set to "load," Johnson said, but this time it was on "bypass."

Johnson said he's never experienced this particular problem before, and it wasn't on their usual checklist, so it added grueling minutes to their time as they troubleshot the issue.

"By the time that was done, it was over for us," he said, still frustrated at the loss.

"In our career field, there is no margin for error," Johnson

said. "That's why every time we make a mistake, we take it to heart and don't do it again until - basically ... until we're perfect."

Many aspects of basic military training are designed to place pressure on trainees, so when they get to a wartime environment, they can handle the pressure that will inevitably break through.

But after BMT, it is competitions like this one which continue to apply that pressure and foster readiness so that when it's time for war, Airmen can perform with excellence and accomplish their mission. Awards come in second to experience gained and muscle memory.

"The number-one mission is to put bombs on target," Johnson said.

"I have a cousin in the Army who always says their best friend is a pilot in the air," Pole said. "I'm glad I can do my part to help save them.

"When they call in an airstrike, I know I loaded that jet to the best of my ability," Pole continued.

"I know that bomb's going to drop on target and save lives."

3rd Wing looks back at ‘tremendous’ 2014, forward to new year

by JBER Public Affairs
Staff report

1/12/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- As a new year starts, the 3rd Wing has already begun to gear up in support of exercise Sentry Aloha, an annual aerial combat exercise focused on offensive and defensive counter measures. However, before they begin the many operations they will support in 2015, Air Force Col. Charles Corcoran, 3rd Wing commander, reflected on the many accomplishments of 2014.

"2014 was a tremendous year for the 3rd Wing," Corcoran said. "We flew nearly 22,000 flight hours worldwide, maintained continuous alert coverage for the Alaska NORAD Region, and executed the second largest open house in Alaska history, all while caring for 2,200 Airmen during the largest active- duty force-reduction program in 50 years."

The 3rd Wing began its tremendous 2014 last February by validating its joint and combined capabilities when five U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, including one from the 517th Airlift Squadron "Firebirds," left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for Thailand to drop paratroopers from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, to the joint and combined exercise Cobra Gold 2014.

Cobra Gold, an annual exercise providing tactical, humanitarian and civil assistance, brought together multiple nations cooperating to support the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

"The reason we have those airplanes is to demonstrate those capabilities. We have crew members that always strive to be outstanding and the Army has Soldiers whose goal is to be outstanding," said Air Force Col. Tony Schenk, mission commander from the 437th Operations Group at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. "In this particular exercise, we strove for perfection together and I think that Col. (Matt) McFarlane (4/25 IBCT commander) and I had a great relationship and we executed it together."

This past July the men and women of the 3rd Wing also supported Arctic Thunder Open House 2014 and helped JBER give back to the local community.
"Really, the draw - besides the show itself - is the spirit of the Air Force and America, represented by the Thunderbirds," said Air Force Maj. Karl Easterly, 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron and open house director, prior to the show. "We wanted people to be excited about the Air Force and excited about JBER. It was very much a family-friendly event. We had all sorts of fun, games and food; from bouncy castles to jets, we had it all."

In September, members of the 90th Fighter Squadron and the 3rd Maintenance Group traveled to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam to participate in operation Valiant Shield. Valiant Shield is a U.S.-only exercise integrating an estimated 18,000 Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps personnel, more than 200 aircraft and 19 surface ships, offering real-world joint operational experience to develop capabilities that provide a full range of options to defend U.S. interests and those of its allies and partners.

Valiant Shield provided a unique mission planning structure due to the geographical separation of the Navy pilots on the aircraft carriers planning operations on shore.

The goal was for all of the pilots to be on the same page, but that's not always possible, said Air Force Maj. Matthew Miller, 90th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations.

That's why it was critical to understand how each other operated - much like building muscle memory. Valiant Shield created that muscle memory.  There is always a need for flexibility to ensure the mission still gets accomplished, he added.

This need for flexibility in the face of changes - in plans, tropical weather, targets and objectives -provided an added sense of realism to the execution of Valiant Shield.

"There were a lot of things changing every single day," Miller said. "For me, personally, I think this was as close to real as you can possibly get. This is how we are going to get to fight in the Pacific. We are not going to have this experience in the type of environment where we are all conveniently at the same base and same mission planning. So [here], we get people and assets from all over the place - and we are expected to fight together."

At the beginning of November, the 525th Fighter Squadron headed off to Kadena Air Base, Japan , to participate in Exercise Keen Sword.

Exercise Keen Sword is a bilateral field training exercise held biennially since 1986. The exercise is designed to increase the interoperability of U.S. Forces and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to effectively and mutually provide for the defense of Japan, or respond to a regional crisis or contingency situation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Approximately 11,000 U.S. personnel participated in Keen Sword, including those assigned to U.S. Forces Japan Headquarters, 5th Air Force, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, U.S. Army Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The forces conducted training with their JASDF counterparts at military installations throughout mainland Japan, Okinawa and in the waters surrounding Japan.

"This exercise is another opportunity for us to work with our Japanese counterparts," said Rear Adm. John D. Alexander, commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet before the exercise. "We are fortunate they are capable and have the capacity to operate alongside us. The fact that we are able to conduct operations as allies and partners goes to the heart of the training that we do together. We need to continue to focus on our relationship both at sea and in port."

The 3rd Wing successfully completed this year's accomplishments tasks while being called upon to host, in conjunction with Eielson Air Force Base, four Red Flag-Alaska exercises this year. An RF-A is a training exercise which puts pilots in combat situations and ensures their ability to thrive in such situations.

"The Joint Pacific-Alaska Range Complex airspace allows aircraft to practice tasks that cannot be accomplished in other areas," said Air Force Lt. Col. Dylan Baumgartner, commander of the 353rd Combat Training Squadron, Detachment 1, out of Eielson Air Force Base. "The large volume of sky and lack of population throughout most of the range space allows for full use of aircraft capabilities, such as extended supersonic flight, which isn't available in most training areas.

In addition to the Alaska units, Air Force units from all over the world participate in Red Flag exercises. All four U.S. military branches are represented and a varying number of international allies take part in each quarterly training.

"In this RF-A [14-3], the U.S. and Australia are the participating nations, but typically we see approximately 16 nations during four exercises throughout the year," Baumgartner said in August. "All four U.S. services are participating. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are flying along with U.S. Air Force aircraft. U.S. Army personnel are involved in operations in and around Eielson and Fort Greeley, Alaska in the landing zones and bombing ranges contained in the JPARC."

Corcoran summed up the wings accomplishments of 2014 in a simple statement about the future.

"We're looking forward to continued successes during another busy year for the 3rd Wing in 2015," Corcoran said.

(Editors note: Additional reporting by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Everett Allen, USS George Washington Public Affairs.)

Florida reservists welcome civilian employers during bosslift

by by Senior Airman Xavier Lockley
927th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

1/11/2015 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, FL -- Civilian employers of Air Force Reservists and members of the state Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve committee took flight aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker for a firsthand look at an air-to-air refueling mission during the 927th Air Refueling Wing Bosslift, Jan. 10.

The bosslift began with a breakfast reception and greeting by Col. Randal Bright, 927th Air Refueling Wing commander.

"First of all, I would like to thank the employers for taking some time out of their busy schedules and come to see what their employees do on UTA weekends," said Bright. "Civilian employers are a valuable support system for a reservist and for these people to come here to the 927th means a lot."

During the flight employers were given the chance to see an refueling mission from the boom pod where members of the 63rd Air Refueling Squadron refueled a C-17 Globemaster III.

"Today was the most rewarding experience ever," said Ian MacGeorge, a representative with the Employer Support the Guard and Reserve. "I not only learned a lot, but I gained a new insight and respect for what goes on here at the 927th ARW. This is certainly the coolest thing I have ever witnessed."

The group then returned to MacDill with a better understanding of the 927th mission as they were welcomed back by their employees to see other aspects of the mission.

"This was a great opportunity to see what our reservists are during UTA weekends," said James Dicks, Florida ESGR chairman. "The employers are given the chance to take back what they saw here, and share their experience with others."

The 927th ARW has approximately 900 reservists assigned and of those, more than 700 have civilian occupations in addition to their reserve commitment. The goal of the ESGR bosslift is to provide employers and civic leaders the opportunity to observe firsthand the capabilities and mission of the Air Force Reserve.

Women in Service Review Rollout Due in 2016

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2015 – Following the 2013 repeal of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, the secretary of defense will announce final decisions to integrate remaining closed occupations and any approved exceptions to policy on or about Jan. 1, 2016, a Pentagon official reported.

Juliet Beyler, the Defense Department’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management, reported “good progress” in the Women in Service Review, which validates all occupational standards to ensure they are operational, relevant and gender-neutral by September 2015.

“Throughout the course of the review of the regulations governing women in the military, we determined that the time had come to do away with the direct ground combat rule and open all positions to women instead,” Beyler said.

The goal, she explained, is to expand opportunities to ensure that all service members are eligible to serve in any capacity based on their abilities and qualifications, and to “remove those old gender-based barriers to service that no longer made sense.”

Deliberate, Measured Approach

When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta removed the direct combat ground rule in 2013, they realized the need for a deliberate and measured approach to ensure the smoothest transition, Beyler said.

The services, she said, conducted various studies at interim milestones in order to review, validate and complete their occupational standards by the fall of 2015. “We’re on track and moving toward that goal,” Beyler said.

Since rescission of the definition and rule, Beyler said, the DoD has notified Congress of the integration of approximately 71,000 positions previously closed to women. This development, she said, can positively affect the force by allowing people to serve based on their ability.

“Expanding opportunities to women, to include the 71,000 we’ve already opened since 2013,” Beyler said, “[gives] a wider pool of qualified people so that commanders have greater flexibility … and it’ll strengthen the all-volunteer force.”

More than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, including Beyler, who’s a two-time combat veteran.

“I like to say that women have been serving in combat since the Revolutionary War, but the 280,000 that we’ve recently seen deployed have contributed in immeasurable ways,” Beyler said.

She said there were various ways in which women were restricted from occupations under the direct ground combat rule, primarily preclusion from assignments to combat units below the brigade level.

“But there were other restrictions such as for physical requirements or positions associated with special operations or long-range reconnaissance,” she added. “We are reviewing all of the occupational standards.”

The services, she said, “are expending a good amount of their time on those 100-percent closed occupations.”

Exception to Policy

Historically, the department had opened positions by exception, but it now has acknowledged it would make more sense to “flip the presumption,” Beyler said, so that all positions will be open to women unless there’s a reason that they should be closed.

Guidance to the services and to U.S. Special Operations Command includes a provision in which a military department secretary or service chief can request an exception to the policy to keep a position closed, according to Beyler.

“But any exception is going to have to be rigorously justified and will have to be based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform the duties of the position,” she said.

Tailoring Training, Accession Needs

Regarding assignments, training, and accessions, Beyler said those elements have been and will continue to be service responsibilities.

As defense secretary, Panetta directed each of the services and SOCOM to develop individual implementation plans tailored to their unique requirements, she said.

“As we have with the positions we’ve already opened and the ones that we’ll continue to open throughout the next year and beyond,” Beyler added, “each service will use the regular accession and training assignment pipelines and timelines that they’ve always used.”

The process of opening more military occupations to women is about maintaining the all-volunteer force and readiness, Beyler said.

“More than 90 percent of our occupations are already open to women and 15 percent of our forces are women,” she said. “By removing these antiquated gender-based barriers to service, it can only strengthen the all-volunteer force and allow people to serve based on their ability and their qualifications.”

Australian exchange pilot recalls road to Raptor cockpit

by David Bedard
JBER Public Affairs

1/12/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- With his left eye covered, a teenage William Grady peered across the examination room at a stark eye chart, his dream of becoming a Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot hanging in the balance.

"E," he said tentatively, identifying the 20/200 letter easily enough before moving on. "F, P, T ... O ... Z ..."
The high-school student slowed down. As he moved down the chart and drew closer to the 20/20 line, the letters blurred into indistinguishable blobs. Despite practicing for weeks to translate the shapes of those blobs into actual letters, Grady would fail the eye examination at the Newcastle, New South Wales, recruiting station.

His dream was gone.

So how is it that, today, Flight Lt. William "Gradz" Grady, RAAF exchange pilot, flies the F-22 Raptor with the 90th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson?

The answer to that question involves the story of his RAAF upbringing, his determination to succeed at every level, and a move to an Alaska base as alien to the Australian as a theoretical outpost on the dark side of the moon.

'RAAF brat'
Grady grew up under wide Australian skies filled with the thunder of RAAF jets. His father and F-111 Aardvark pilot, Air Commodore Anthony Grady, is the commander of the RAAF Air Combat Group, which administers the air force's fighter and bomber aircraft.

The younger Grady said he knew he wanted to be a fighter pilot from a very young age, an aspiration that created tension in the family since the elder Grady flew the F-111 - a strike bomber.

Grady's dream became at risk in Year 9 (roughly equivalent to sophomore year), when he discovered he was nearsighted. At the time, RAAF policy didn't allow for myopic pilots, even if their vision was surgically corrected. The aspiring aviator said he was devastated.

"It's demoralizing when you work that hard and you had it in your head for so long," Grady said. "It was a low point."

After failing his eye exam at the recruiting station, Grady decided to study medicine at the University of Newcastle Medical School with the aim of becoming a doctor. Though medicine is certainly a respected profession, Grady said he was settling.

"I never really thought of anything else other than being a pilot the entire time I was growing up, until it became clear it just wasn't going to happen," he recalled. "I was definitely beginning to grow into the prospect of being a doctor, though."

Even during his studies, Grady said he called the recruiter to see if the policies changed. Every two months he made the phone call, and every two months he was given the bad news: the policy stood.

Then the policy changed.

Foresight is 20/20
Grady said he immediately stopped his studies, abandoning any ambition of becoming a doctor and rededicating all of his efforts into becoming a fighter pilot.

He went to Sydney to have laser eye surgery on his 18th birthday, the earliest he could legally get the procedure done.

The tiny bits of cornea removed by the surgeon's laser would have an enormous impact on Grady's life. The recruiting office's once-fuzzy letters came sharply into focus. But the eye exam was only the first hurdle on the road to a fighter cockpit.

The next step for Grady was the RAAF Flight Screening Program, which is a number of academic and psychological tests as well as leadership and group exercises. A highly competitive process, candidates are ranked before proceeding to the next stage of FSP.

During the screening process, selection officials asked Grady if he was open to becoming an Army or Navy helicopter pilot, broadening his career options and increasing his odds of becoming a military aviator. He wasn't having any of it. It was fighter pilot or nothing; he was all in.

"I think that is what attracted [the selection committee] to me, was I had a very clear drive [to become a fighter pilot]," Grady said. "That drive might not be there among other 18-year-olds."

Grasping a dream
The RAAF recruiting website pulls no punches in describing where fighter pilots fit in the service's pantheon of occupations, and how difficult it is for a candidate to eventually get his name stenciled on a fighter.

"Fighter pilots are the elite of the pilot jobs," a brief on the RAAF website asserts. "Becoming a fighter pilot is difficult - for both men and women. The fighter pilot selection and training process is comprehensive, spanning four years on average ... This ensures the professionalism and very high standards of the select few who graduate as qualified fighter pilots."

Grady started pilot training with the rather pedestrian piston-engined CT/4 Airtrainer, in which he learned basic pilot skills. The CT/4 covers a relatively sedate two miles per minute, which granted Grady ample time to focus on throttle and control-surface adjustments.
Grady then graduated to the turboprop PC-9, which doubles the closing speed to four miles per minute, stretching the student's capability to cope with time compression.

Just when Grady was getting comfortable with the PC-9, the student pilot progressed to the Hawk 127, a jet-engined fighter trainer capable of covering seven miles per minute. During this phase, Grady began tactical application for air-to-air and air-to-ground sorties.

"By that stage, you have progressed to the point where it's just the next step," the pilot said. "I never found it beyond anyone's capabilities, but you're always challenged and that's the beauty of it."

Finally, Grady was able to train on a real fighter: the F-18 Hornet. Now called the "Classic Hornet" in light of the newer, larger F-18 Super Hornet, the twin-engine multirole fighter originally entered service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the early 80s before being selected by the RAAF to replace their French-made Mirage III fighters.

Capable of speeds in excess of Mach 1.8, Grady said the Hornet increased piloting complexity tenfold when compared to the Hawk trainer. It was the challenge he had kept his eye on his entire life.

'Seek and strike'
RAAF Base Tindal is located in the middle of the savanna plains of Australia's Northern Territory. Located nine miles away is the quiet town of Katherine, population 6,094 as of the 2011 census. Beyond the two interconnected communities, there isn't a whole lot of note.

Remote as the base may be, Grady said his first assignment there with RAAF No. 75 Squadron was the ideal experience for a junior Hornet driver.

"If you want to learn how to be a fighter pilot, the Northern Territory is definitely the place to do it, because we have airspace 200 miles wide by 600 miles deep, surface to 60,000 feet supersonic, chaff flare, no restrictions," he explained. "It's definitely the place to learn the art of being a fighter pilot, and a lot of the major Australia exercises happen in that airspace."

During his assignment at Tindal, Grady met his wife, Flight Lt. Christine Grady, an air traffic control officer.

Fighter combat instructor
Flying in close formation with his wingman, Grady's eyes popped back and forth between his radar screen and the horizon. Fast-moving dots indicated bogeys rapidly closing for the merge.

The RAAF Hornets were decked out with inboard and outboard pylons loaded with heavy radar-guided missiles, slowing down the F-18s and negatively affecting their maneuverability. Not the ideal situation to be in for a dogfight during the basic-fighter-maneuver (BFM) phase of the Fighter Combat Instructor Course - the RAAF's equivalent of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School - at RAAF Base Williamtown.

The inbound jets passed under the Hornets at blinding speed - now identified as U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from Eielson Air Force Base's 18th Aggressor Squadron flying as simulated enemy "red air." The F-16s, better known as Vipers, were in a lightly armed configuration, adding to their already-considerable thrust and maneuver advantage over the F-18s. Grady calls the 18th AS F-16s "big mouths," denoting the fighter's more powerful General Electric engine and its signature intake.

"We were pretty much in the worst-possible configuration for the BFM - deliberately to stack the odds against us," Grady said. "That was a big learning curve, fighting clean Block 52 big-mouth F-16s, when you are the most draggy, small-engined fighter you can think of. But in the end, it was great. We learned a lot of lessons and we also had a lot of wins - even in that configuration."

The scenario perhaps typified Grady's often arduous journey toward realizing his goals. The process was competitive for him to become a fighter pilot. The process was competitive for him to become a fighter combat instructor. And soon enough, Grady would enter into another competition for a key RAAF billet.

Raptor bound
The 90th Fighter Squadron, now stationed  at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, has continuously hosted an Australian exchange pilot since 1942. The fact the exchange currently offers F-22 Raptor experience is an added bonus, since the Raptor - the only fully operational fifth-generation fighter in the world - is not exported. The billet was offered to any fighter pilot who had a lead qualification for a four-fighter formation.

"Which meant that everyone and his dog put the application in to do the F-22 exchange, because it's definitely the highest-profile exchange we have in Australia," Grady explained. "Everyone wants to fly the F-22, being the machine that it is. I am very lucky and honored to be selected."
Grady said the RAAF chose him partly because he had a great deal of fighter experience while still being junior enough for the exchange to pay dividends for years.

Grady reported to the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for F-22 conversion. Though the Raptor is unlike anything he had every flown, the Australian pilot said learning a new airframe was nothing new.

"That's the great thing about being a fighter pilot: it's never boring," Grady said. "You're always going to get challenged at every opportunity and no two days are the same. Going to F-22s is no different than going to F-18s, or going to the PC-9. The whole way, it's one step up at a time."
Because he had more than 500 hours' of fighter experience, Grady was able to attend the most expedited of the transition course's four available training tracks.

"That's the good part of the course is it acknowledges fast-jet time, and they streamline the process in a very efficient way," he said. "Instructors there are very proficient at recognizing what your experiences are and working out what is important."

Something new for Grady was training with a single-seat fighter. Every aircraft type he had trained up to this point had room for an instructor pilot to mentor and take the controls if necessary. The Australian would spend a lot of time in an F-22 simulator before taking to the air for his first solo ride. As close as the computerized-mockup can get to flying the Raptor, nothing could compare to the real thing.

"When you put the throttles up for the first time, and you actually feel the amount of power the aircraft has, no simulator training can prepare you for that," he said. "Even having thought about how much it was going to be, you get shocked at the thrust. That's a massive plus."

The Last Frontier
As exotic as Australia may seem to most Americans, perhaps few things are as exotic to an Australian as snow and the prospect of the mercury dropping to temperatures far below freezing.

"It's definitely a shock to the system," Grady said. "We talked about it, and we're thinking of it as one big adventure. Small things like shoveling snow in the driveway are big to us.

"It's a culture shock coming from 40 degrees Celsius - 100 degrees in Fahrenheit - heat in Australia. We want to get as much stuff done as possible, so we can go home and say that we've experienced the Alaskan lifestyle to the fullest."

Christine is on a leave of absence from the RAAF, allowing her to focus on raising their 9-month-old son, Jayden, during the pilot's three-year tour at JBER.

Grady will be busy during the ensuing months working to earn pilot upgrades, which will allow him to give back to the 90th FS as an instructor.
"The intent of the exchange is Australia learns from the USAF and - hopefully, by seeing a different point of view or a different way of thinking - USAF, and particularly the 90th, can glean information from how we do business in Australia as well," he said.

For now, Grady asks a lot of questions of other 90th FS officers. What is the proper wear of the dice on the flight suit? What is the meaning of some of the artifacts in the squadron heritage room? His inquisitive nature reflects an eagerness to get to know the unit that has hosted his forebears for more than 70 years.

"I am very proud of the history between Australia and the 90th," Grady elaborated. "It's very specific. I'm very honored, very keen to continue to learn about the history of the 90th, to live up to the standard of the officers who came before me. There's definitely an expectation to live up to."

Cutting the cold Alaska air, Grady's F-22 soars over the frozen Cook Inlet. He peers with 20/20 vision at a once-alien landscape, a place he will call home for three years.

He got into the Raptor's cockpit by way of determination, by way of raising questions in the face of disqualification, by way of striving to be the best pilot he can be.

He pushes the throttle and jets into the dark blue Alaska sky, his eyes sharp and open wide.