EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, conclude exercise Red Flag-Alaska 16-2 June 17, 2016, after completing multiple missions during two weeks of large-force air-to-air and surface-to-air simulated combat training at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
Exercise Red Flag-Alaska is one of the biggest air-to-air exercises in the world with approximately more than 80 aircraft participating in the air at one time.
“I’ve got a lot of young aviators that have never seen something at this level with this many aircraft going against a very good and proficient threat, both on the air-to-air side and the surface-to-air side,” said Lt. Col. Gregory A. McGuire, commanding officer of VMFA-314. “For me, I’m happy about giving my guys the opportunity to see this kind of real-world kinetic, large-force exercise so they can see how we would employ should we be called upon to do so.”
During the exercise, VMFA-314 participated in multiple missions, also known as ‘sorties,’ each day of the exercise, and the long hours required rotating shifts. With the busy schedule, pilots were either flying or planning for the next mission.
“So I think it just drives home the point that our readiness that we report every month has to be accurate, and we need to be trained on a lot of different mission sets,” said Maj. Steven Bowden, executive officer of VMFA-314. “As far as the aircraft health goes, with two massive flights a day, there’s no flexibility with an aircraft breaking and making it out there late. It’s not like our own schedule where you can degrade it. Here, it’s a master schedule and if you miss it, you’re not going to catch it back up.”
While pilots were performing their tasks, the ground crews and maintainers were verifying that the F/A-18C Hornet jets were ready to fly and had the proper payload for specific missions.
“The exercise has been phenomenal, and we couldn’t have accomplished what we did without the Marines on the ground,” said McGuire. “They kept the jets up and fully mission capable, all the systems worked, and to train to our full spectrum is pretty huge in an environment where you’ve got robust air-to-air and surface-to-air threats.”
VMFA-314 conducted many different missions including defensive and offensive air-to-air tactics and air-to-ground.
“We have a lot of missions and wear a lot of different hats,” said Bowden. “Here is where we get to go from one mission set to the other and train on multiple missions while inserted into an environment with a ton of other planes. So more than anything, you have to be on your toes and be up to speed on all of our missions vice just the ones that we like.”
Before each mission, pilots planned for approximately ten hours with the other units. The largest safety precaution was to make sure all units knew where the planes were going to be so they avoided any unnecessary collisions or mishaps.
“This is my first Red Flag and probably the biggest take-away is joint efforts, and part of that is just the coordination of everything because you need jets to cover the ones dropping bombs down below,” said Capt. Josh Martin, pilot and schedules officer with VMFA-314. “Red Flag is a mission planning exercise and the execution is just about getting it right, but everything boils down to planning.”
Now that exercise Red Flag-Alaska is over, VMFA-314 will continue into exercise Distant Frontier, which focuses on unit-level training.
“That’s more unit-level training so we’ll be working with VMFA(AW) 242 as they do some of their forward air control airborne training. We’ll do some close air support, and we’ve got some low-altitude training to conduct with some of our new guys,” said McGuire. “It will be more of the unit-level type event with any of the Air Force units that are sticking around. We would like to work with them too on some of the other mission sets, but primarily it will just be internal VMFA-314 level training for the next two weeks.”