FANG Flag gives 125th Fighter Wing members opportunity to bond and excel
By Staff Sgt. William Buchanan, 125FW Public Affairs
/ Published May 05, 2010
The first things Airmen were told when they arrived at the Savannah, Ga. Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) was what movie was playing that night and what times the bus would be traveling to downtown Savannah. This may not seem like a mission-oriente -- The 125th Fighter Wing was the first customer on the brand new ramp of the Savannah CRTC, Ga. in March; the first time the Wing has deployed there since 1997. This was an opportunity for the full time force and the Drill Status Guardsman to train together for more than the usual weekend Unit Training Assembly.
Officially, the primary objective was the deployment of Large Force Employment missions (LFEs); an opportunity home base can't afford on a day-to-day basis due to the immense complexity, said Maj. Eggar Van Wieren, the project officer for the deployment.
Dogfighting missions send multiple aircraft up on two opposing sides: friendly and enemy. LFEs are missions where more than four fighters operate on the friendly side at one time. To gather the number of jets and pilots required for these missions, Van Wieren sought other units to train with and married up with the 71st Fighter Squadron, an active duty squadron from Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Starting March 8 and with weather permitting, two missions per day took off from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. Teams of eight F-15s met in a piece of the sky over the Atlantic Ocean where real-world missions were laid into the training area making the simulations more authentic.
"This is as close to real-time missions as possible," Van Wieren said. "This is the absolute top of our training plan."
The training area was once isolated to 500 square miles of airspace off the coast of Georgia measurable by antennae mounted in the water. Pilots could be tracked only when they flew in the rectangle created by communicating antennae signals. The development of satellites and the Air Combat Training System (ACTS) modernized the training and turned 500 square miles into 500,000 square miles of usable airspace. Savannah CRTC is one of only four bases in the Air National Guard with an ACTS.
All the F-15s are equipped with an Air Combat Training Systems pod. These pods send information back to the ACTS on the ground and create a near real-time visual display updating every 10-20 microseconds. That's more than 200 times faster than frames on a movie reel. Experienced pilots called Range Training Officers (RTOs) watch a "God's eye view" of the dogfight from the ground and referee the action. Pilots use radio to call out shots fired and the RTOs communicate back calling a shot either "trash" for a miss or "dead" for a hit.
The two basic missions conducted at the CRTC were defensive counter air and offensive counter air. During defensive counter air missions, pilots simply protect an area. During offensive counter air missions, pilots simulate escorting a package of bombers into enemy territory. The mission of the F-15 is to clear the air so the bombers can get in without being attacked. Post-mission, pilots were debriefed using the same computer-generated visuals produced by the ACTS, an opportunity not available at home base.
"This really is about as close as it gets for them to flying in Iraq and Afghanistan," said CRTC First Sergeant Master Sgt. Bucky Burnsed.
Along with the fighter jets, each day two incentive fliers rode shotgun in the D model F-15. This privilege is given to individuals that have shown excellence both on and off duty and who were selected by their supervisors. During incentive flights, pilots show people what the aircraft is capable of through climbs, banks, rolls and even simulated dog-fighting. If given the chance, Maj. Jared "Chowda" Conaboy from the 131st Fighter Squadron at Barnes Air Force Base recommends three things: a quick climb (shooting straight up), going supersonic (breaking sound barrier) and pulling eight Gs (eight times the force of gravity).
"It's important to us to take care of the people," said Chief Master Sgt. Rob Swann, Maintenance Operations Flight superintendent.
Taking care of the people turned out to be the real mission of the 125FW. With Van Wieren coordinating the mission aspects, Command Chief Master Sgt. Sharon Ervin and a team of First Sergeants synergized to provide the hundreds of supporting Airmen required for the deployment with extra-curricular activities.
Even before the smell of jet fuel hit the air, Ervin had 2012 in the DVD player and Rock Band set up on the XBOX 360. Incomers were briefed on security measures prohibiting Internet use on the base; a single violation had the potential to bring down the network over the entire base. With this in mind, leadership provided the entertainment creating game and movie nights complete with pizza and, providing individuals met the age requirement, ice cold domestic bottles until supplies ran out.
The biggest hit on the Savannah scene, however, was the transportation downtown. Throughout the trip, vehicle operations drove busloads of Airmen to and from River Street, the heart of the nightlife. The bus made runs every two hours, and in preparation for the most popular evenings, such as Saint Patrick's Day, Ervin and the First Sergeants worked out longer hours with the last ride coming home after 2 a.m.
Along with being the first customers on Savannah CRTC's updated ramp, the Airmen of the 125FW were the first to sleep on the captain's beds in the brand new dormitory, building 305. Three floors, two twin beds and one tiny parking lot afforded every Airman a place to rest after a day of duty. Resting was often traded in for some quality time by the barbecue pit behind 305.
"305's backyard barbecues are where you save the world," said Master Sgt. Emmett Dzioba, 125FW avionics non-commissioned officer in charge.
Troops who work on the same base and never met collected around coolers and camping chairs to talk about life and the world's problems, such as the economic situation and the conflict in the Middle East. When the dialogue wasn't so heavy, horseshoes and dartboards also proved to be good bonding exercises.
Swann said that what makes this a great trip is that the entire base deployed together. Typically, a deployment exercise involves one Commander, one Chief and one First Sergeant. Having teams of leadership from the 125FW allows sharing of workload from the very top down to the individual shops. He said having the whole base working together creates unit cohesiveness and builds morale.
"Back home, we have other priorities," Swann said. "Here, we get to spend time with each other."
Whether on the new concrete of the aircraft ramp or the cobblestone streets of downtown Savannah, it's easy to see the success of the mission in the bonds made between the Airmen of the 125FW.