104th FW guardsmen honing skills during Red Flag

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NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — More than 125 Airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, joined combat air force squadrons from around the world to participate in Red Flag 16-1, a large scale integration and combat training exercise.
The 104th FW joins over 130 aircraft and 3,000 personnel from three countries during the three-week exercise. The enormity of this exercise provides servicemembers the opportunity to interact, engage, and work with joint and coalition units flying different aircraft to support an overall combined mission before being deployed to support wartime operations.
“Red Flag replicates scenarios we would see in a wartime environment,” stated Chief Master Sgt. Richard Tudisco, 104th FW Maintenance Group noncommissioned officer in charge. “The realistic combat training received at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada is important to guardsmen because it brings together a multitude of diverse aircraft into one (air expeditionary) wing to execute combined operations; an opportunity not afforded to them at home station.”
Simulated war exercises also allow National Guardsmen behind the scenes to get a realistic expectation of how normal daily operations change when home station convenience is replaced with deployment reality.
“Red Flag allows us to work in a facility that we are not used to working in, where we do not have all of the tools or parts we are used to having on hand at home,” said Lt. Col. Chris Bigelow, 104th FW Maintenance Group deputy commander. “Participation in Red Flag allows our maintainers the opportunity to work through a wartime structure and allows them to understand the process of what they would have to go through in theatre.”
Traditional guardsmen are unique to the military as many of them have civilian jobs outside of the military that are different than the duties they perform on drill weekend. Red Flag affords them the opportunity to keep their Air Force specialty skills sharp the increased operations tempo.
“This exercise allows our traditional guardsmen, who don’t have an opportunity to work on F-15s on a regular basis, the ability to put their hands on the aircraft, do their job, and get the training they need,” said Bigelow.
When there are over 3,000 participants in an exercise, each member brings their own knowledge and experience that can be shared within the whole group. It is important for Airmen to see where they fit into the big picture.
“Red Flag incorporates so many different airframes and can accommodate an appropriate air support structure; being part of this large scale exercise has allowed me to see how we integrate with other wings and different aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Austin Putnam, 104th FW fuel shop technician.
“Our younger Airmen need this type of training to build confidence and understand that the 104th FW is only a small piece to a very large puzzle, but without all of the necessary pieces, the larger whole suffers,” said Bigelow.
Red Flag 16-1 will continue until Feb. 12, with an emphasis on providing aircrews and support staff members’ realistic and relevant training to ensure dominance in air, space and cyberspace environments.