Gunfighter Flag 15-2: Bringing deployments home

  • Published
  • By Airman Connor J. Marth
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Airmen from the 366th Fighter Wing and the 266th Range Squadron teamed up with Sailors, Marines and Army National Guardsmen for combat training scenarios during Gunfighter Flag 15-2.

Gunfighter Flag provided a joint service combat experience to simulate deployed situations.

"We mainly work with the Army and the Marines downrange, so when they come out here we get to see how their operations work and vice versa," said Maj. Jason Williams, the 366th Security Forces Squadron commander. "Everybody speaks differently and when we get to work together like this, it really helps us understand each other."

The culmination of joint forces in the real world can be a daunting task. Gunfighter Flag provided the opportunity for sister services to approach problems and work through them together. The weather was one of those problems.

"We got caught in a snowstorm," said Maj. Aaron Ruona, the 366th FW liaison officer. "Getting heat out there this time of year was something we didn't think we'd need initially. But of course, weather changes, you're going to need heat out there."

Difficulty and inconvenience during exercises can create valuable learning experiences. The remote location of Saylor Creek Range reminded the 366th Medical Group just how much more difficult deployed environments can be.

"We can't call up general surgery and take them up to a sterile operating room to save their life," said Capt. James Wirthlin, a 391st Fighter Squadron flight surgeon. "If we had the resources we could save everyone, but oftentimes that's not the case. We try to bring as many people as we can downrange to save lives, and these training environments certainly help them prepare for that."

Gunfighter Flag was also an opportunity for mission-specific, close air support training on aircraft such as Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, Navy EA-18 Growlers, Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The Saylor Creek and Juniper Butte range complexes offered flexible airspace, providing pilots with the room they need to train accurately and safely.

"Close air support in a contested environment is vital to warfighters across the globe," said an Air Force combat controller. "It's imperative that we are all thinking and acting as strategically as possible, due to the constantly evolving battlefield."

Gunfighter Flag exercises allow the Defense Department to train and prepare for future joint service and deployed situations through their unique terrain and airspace capabilities. Thanks to these scenarios, the personnel involved will be able to take what they've learned into future deployments.

"It's a very valuable experience to be able to pull everyone out of a hardened facility and re-create really rough conditions," Wirthlin said. "If you train in the worst, you're prepared for the worst."