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Thunderbolts light up the sky during Checkered Flag 18-1

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Isaiah J. Soliz
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 366th Fighter Wing “Gunfighters” from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, deployed assets to participate in the large-scale aerial exercise Checkered Flag 18-1 and Combat Archer, a Weapons System Evaluation Program at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 6-17.

The 366th FW sent approximately 240 operations and maintenance Airmen and 14 F-15E Strike Eagles from the 389th Fighter Squadron to train in real-world simulated scenarios for this two-week long exercise.

One of the mainstays of Mountain Home, the F-15E Strike Eagle, is a distinctive aircraft that bolsters a more dynamic training environment in part because of the aircrafts dual seats, allowing for a division of duties between the pilots in the cockpit depending on the mission at hand. This enables the pilot and the weapons systems officer to work collectively to achieve peak proficiency. The all-weather fighter houses avionics and electronics systems that give this aircraft the ability to fight at low altitude any time of the day through various types of weather.

“Checkered Flag is a unique opportunity for us to integrate with many different aircraft, specifically fourth and fifth-generation aircraft integration,” said Lt. Col. David Och, 389th Fighter Squadron commander. “We do not get to do this type of training at Mountain Home very often.

“The ability to come here to integrate and mission plan alongside the newest aircraft in our inventory is a unique experience only available at exercises like Red Flag and here at Checkered Flag,” Och continued.

According to its factsheet, the 389th FS Thunderbolts are responsible for sustaining combat readiness to conduct a variety of short-notice contingency operations worldwide.

“Exercises like this allow us to practice, make improvements and efficiencies in logistics and manpower toward the deployment aspect of an exercise,” Och said. “In this case, we are only moving assets from Mountain Home to Tyndall; however, if we were to be heading into a real-world deployment, much of the steps and processes would be the same.

“Our wing must be prepared to deploy combat-ready assets at a moment’s notice so participating in this exercise is extremely beneficial,” Och said.

Checkered Flag, focuses on the seamless integration of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft while enabling the participating active duty units to train alongside their Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard colleagues. Checkered Flag and the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program run simultaneously, WSEP focuses on the air-to-air training and live fire weapons testing for the participating units.

“This specific exercise allows our Thunderbolts to get back into an air-to-air combat mindset,” Och said. “After returning from a record-setting deployment that was mainly an air-to-ground focus, we will now be able to train and refocus on being ready for any contingencies that may occur at a moment’s notice.”

As the exercises ramp up into full swing, the 389th and its partners will partake in rigorous high paced training that emulates real-world scenarios. The concurrent exercises not only provide a platform for the Airmen to train, but it also allows the Airmen to be tested and evaluated on their combat readiness in a realistic environment and in a cost-effective and efficient manner.