NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — When Nellis Air Force Base comes to mind, the most common association that is made is that the base hosts the massive air-to-air training exercise known as Red Flag.
Lesser know is an exercise that plays just as important a training role for Airmen preparing to deploy: Green Flag.
For organizations like the 34th Bomb Squadron from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, the Green Flag air-to-ground exercise provides dynamic training for the Airmen from their B-1B Lancer aircrew and support personnel to prepare for deployments.
“Green Flag is an Air Combat Command exercise typically for Airmen who are getting ready to deploy,” said Lt. Col. Daniel, director of operations, 34th BS. “The initial concept is that they get the air assets that are going to be in theater, as well as a ground component commander for a brigade and get used to working together.”
In its creation, Green Flag was not so comprehensive. Over the years, it has evolved into one of the most important ways to train Airmen on much larger scale operations.
“Initially it was all close air support, but Green Flag has evolved over the years and now there is also a brigade fight,” Daniel said. “It’s become a force-on-force with over 4,500 friendly personnel and over 200 pieces of armor, including tanks and Humvees on the ground. It’s a very large force sort of exercise working on tactics and procedures.”
Squadrons, such as the 34th BS, use Green Flag as a valuable opportunity to train new B-1B pilots and crewmembers alike for what to expect downrange.
“From the exercise perspective though, our squadron has eight crews out here at the moment and half of them will be first time deployers,” Daniel said.
These Airmen who are new to their position gain from Green Flag the repetitions and fundamental close air support training necessary to be successful when emerged in a deployment environment.
“We bring a lot of our newer pilots and our newer offensive and defensive avionics guys out here so it’s a lot of crew training,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “So right now it’s all close air support, which is what we’ve been doing a lot more while deployed. For them it’s really priceless training, because what you do here and what you can practice, bringing that to the warfighter limits mistakes, hopefully to zero.”
With the squadrons that attend preparing to deploy in the future, the ability to throw a wrench in the day-to-day operations and force aircrews to overcome the challenges of deploying provides essential experience.
“As we’re prepping to deploy, … you’re taking your operations and maintenance [personnel] out of their normal flying patterns at home station, up-rooting them and making them move forward,” Daniel said. “It helps us work even closer with our maintenance guys and build that relationship that’s going to be important while deployed. It’s a cross-check to make sure that we have everything we need in our deployment kit.”
While the pace may be fast during Green Flag, the necessary missions that the 34th BS will eventually participate in is more than worth the price.
“We get Airmen out here and get them doing fundamental sorties,” Daniel said. “So on any given sortie I have a new weapons system officer in the back getting anywhere from eight to 10 lines on an hour and a half sortie of the range.”
Through the entire Green Flag, the 34th BS B-1s have prepared for the stresses of deployment and obtained valuable air-to-ground training in the process.
“The guys out here, I wouldn’t bring any other group with me,” Kenneth said. “They’re unreal and they’ve kept up through the whole thing.”