History was made July 16-27 at Red Flag 12-4 when the 388th Fighter Wing trained alongside the Colombian Air Force during Colombia's first time exercising in Red Flag.
During this historic event Colombia also became the 29th country to participate in Red Flag, which is often held bi-annually at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
The Colombian Air Force deployed beyond its borders with eight Israel Aerospace Industries Kfir multirole fighters, and Boeing 707/767 refueling tankers contributing combat power while participating in multiple large-force exercises during the two-week period.
For pilots and maintainers around the globe, Red Flag provides world class, realistic air combat training that can't be acquired anywhere else. The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) serves as the aerial playground for war games during Red Flag. With more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land, the NTTR offers pilots and other aircrew a unique environment and terrain coupled with scenarios that are not possible elsewhere.
The goal of the exercise is to train not only pilots, but every member of the team, from the U.S. Air Force, sister services and coalition air forces to operate, survive, and win together -- even in the most demanding combat scenarios.
This was Capt. Luke O'Sullivan's second Red Flag experience. The 421st Fighter Squadron pilot said this Red Flag was particularly robust and provided numerous opportunities to react to and train against threats in a joint environment with allies like the Columbians and United Arab Emirates.
"Training at this level helps ensure we are prepared to achieve victory against any adversary," said O'Sullivan.
The captain also said typical training sorties at home do not involve such a large variety of missions, the sheer number of aircraft, or even the mixture of airframes that each day at Red Flag provides.
The 4-year veteran fighter pilot explained the exercise's daily events and how participants were given a different training scenario every day. Some of the missions they were given included attacking high value targets, dynamic targeting, traditional air-interdiction, defensive counter air and combat search and rescue.
"As pilots, we often have to simulate visually identifying an adversary, but during Red Flag, we could realistically practice, since the Nellis aggressors are painted with a different scheme. This type of training is very valuable," he said.
For the 388th FW, preparation for Red Flag began long before July 16. The wing started planning in March while deployed as part of a Theater Security Package in the Republic of Korea.
"As the lead planner for the 388th Fighter Wing's deployment to Nellis Air Force Base, I saw first-hand how much effort and coordination is required to mobilize nearly 200 Airmen, 16 aircraft, maintenance equipment, and other supplies -- it's definitely not an easy task," said O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan feels like this Red Flag exercise was a valuable learning experience for everyone involved. And he pointed out the fact that none of it could have been achieved without the efforts of the 388th FW maintainers that participated in this training exercise.
"We really couldn't have done it without the maintainers covering such a wide fly-window that included weekends, nights, and extremely early mornings," he said. "Because of their dedication, hard work and expertise fixing aging aircraft, we successfully learned many lessons that were not within reach during normal day-to-day training. Ultimately, this has improved our combat capability and increased our overall effectiveness."
For the maintainers, the feelings are mutual and Red Flag was deemed an overall success.
"This exercise provides us an opportunity to practice for future deployments by working with various squadrons and identifying what personnel and equipment to bring, which takes a lot of planning and communication between units, said 2nd Lt. Ryan Kelly, from the 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
"Red Flag gave us good practice for when the real thing kicks off, and we practice like we play," he said.