Pilots from the USAF 74th Fighter Squadron prepared for future deployments while participating in Green Flag-West 17-03 from Jan. 13-27 at Nellis Air Force Base.

Seven A-10C Thunderbolt IIs at the end of runway for takeoff

GFW is an air-land integration exercise that gives Air Force pilots a chance to conduct realistic close air support in a joint training environment designed to mirror the current conditions present in overseas contingency operations.

“Green Flag is a big exercise where we get to train with a lot of Army assets that we don't normally work with,” said Air Force Maj. Michael Dumas, the 23rd Fighter Group chief of standards and evaluation. “We’re supporting an entire brigade combat team, more than 4,500 guys, and being involved in that kind of large force exercise is really great training for us. It’s especially important for our younger guys who have never been exposed to this kind of integration.”

Air Force 1st Lt. Kyle Singletary, an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot from the 74th FS, is on his first large-scale exercise with the squadron.

“I think Green Flag is preparing us well because we get to see what the Army would actually look like on the ground in a deployed environment,” Singletary said. “We get to see what close air support is supposed to be doing in a large-scale battle and the associated difficulties that come along with it, like battle tracking, finding targets and flying alongside artillery fire.

“These are the scenarios we try to simulate back home in our training,” Singletary continued. “So the main difference, and the real benefit of coming out here, is that it’s all real.”

An added benefit of the realism inherent with an exercise this size is an extra challenge called battle tracking, keeping track of the targets as they move and react to friendly force movements.

“It’s a pretty cool problem to have because it’s very difficult for us to simulate back home,” Dumas said. “It’s the same training every day, so we all know where the targets are. Here, there’s a bunch of stuff on the ground and you don’t always know what it is. Providing close are support while working through the uncertainty of finding the friendlies to protect and the targets to kill is really important practice for when we go to support Operation Inherent Resolve.”

The friendly forces and targets alike are on the ground at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where the Army conducts pre-deployment certification training and according to Army Capt. Zachary Busenbark, the 357th Ground Liaison Detachment, 4th Battlefield Coordination Detachment ground liaison officer, realism is the name of the game.

“The entire purpose of the NTC is to make training as realistic as possible,” Busenbark said. “It tests all of the ground commander’s systems: maneuver, artillery, infantry, tanks, the cooks, the intel guys … everyone’s getting a piece of the training. Bringing in the A-10s to support just absolutely adds the element of authenticity.

“Real CAS is tangible,” Busenbark said. “I think that’s why it’s vital to have these assets out here.”

Source and Pics: Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan, 23rd Wing Public Affairs
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