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C-17 gains valuable training through integration at Red Flag 16-3

A C-17, assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., sits on the runway before take-off during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag provides an opportunity for aircrew and military aircraft to enhance their tactical operational skills alongside military aircraft from coalition forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

A C-17 Globemaster III, assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., sits on the runway before takeoff during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag provides an opportunity for aircrews to enhance their tactical operational skills alongside military aircraft from coalition forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)

Staff Sgt. Austin Overbaugh, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., aerospace propulsion maintainer, and Staff Sgt. Adrian Rincones, 437th AMXS crew chief prepare a C-17 for take-off during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag enhances aircrew’s combat readiness and survivability by challenging them with realistic combat scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Staff Sgt. Austin Overbaugh, an aerospace propulsion maintainer with the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and Staff Sgt. Adrian Rincones, a 437th AMXS crew chief, prepare a C-17 Globemaster III for takeoff during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag enhances aircrews’ combat readiness and survivability by challenging them with realistic combat scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)

Senior Airman Nick Church, 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., loadmaster, places seats upright before take-off inside a C-17 during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air, space and cyber forces of the U.S. and its allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Senior Airman Nick Church, a loadmaster with the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., places seats upright before takeoff inside a C-17 Globemaster III during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air, space and cyber forces of the U.S. and its allies. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)

Senior Airmen Ashley Igalo, 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., loadmaster, prepares the cargo area of a C-17 for take-off during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Night missions have been integrated into Red Flag to prepare aircrew for missions in low-light environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Senior Airman Nick Church, a loadmaster with the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., places seats upright before takeoff inside a C-17 Globemaster III during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air, space and cyber forces of the U.S. and its allies. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)

Senior Airman Ashley Igalo, 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., loadmaster, prepares the interior of a C-17 for Survival Evasion Resistance Escape specialist’s static line jumps during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. All four branches of the U.S. Military participate in the Red Flag training conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Senior Airman Ashley Igalo, a loadmaster with the 437th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., prepares the interior of a C-17 Globemaster III for survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists’ static line jumps during Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 20, 2016. All four branches of the U.S. military participate in the Red Flag training conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Since its maiden flight in 1991, the C-17 Globemaster III has served as a reliable and maintainable cargo aircraft with the ability of rapid and strategic cargo and troop delivery.

During Red Flag 16-3, the 437th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, is training at Nellis Air Force Base on how to integrate pilots, crew members and intelligence Airmen, among others, to become more mission ready.

“At Red Flag, the mission of the C-17 is to insert either cargo or troops to support follow-on missions,” said Capt. John Wendler, a 16th Airlift Squadron weapons officer. “The C-17 is unique in the ability that it can rapidly deploy anywhere in the world. We have a lot of fuel and capabilities that can make us very lethal when it comes to delivering cargo, equipment and personnel to that combat support.”

While the C-17’s deadly capabilities make it a threat to adversaries, it also has distinct qualities that set it apart from other aircraft.

“Traditionally cargo and equipment is moved via boats, trucks or smaller aircraft,” Wendler said. “The C-17 is unique because it can do direct delivery. Basically, we can go from the states all the way over to the combat zone, like Afghanistan or Iraq, directly and accomplish our mission by inserting those forces and combat equipment.”

Throughout Red Flag 16-3, the unit from Joint Base Charleston integrates the many cargo capabilities of the C-17 with other airframes and branches of service to accomplish its goals.

“What we’ve been doing here is a little on the smaller or micro scale. We usually take off and fit into the strike and suppression of enemy air defenses portion of the mission,” Wendler said. “So, striker and faster movers push in first, and then we ingress at low altitude where we’re not going to be exposed by enemy assets, enemy red air or strategic missiles. Once we get into the target area, we either do a strategic landing on a dirt landing zone or a parachute drop where we’re putting jumpers under canopy at those target locations.”

When planning and executing these missions, the ability to coordinate with all of the different players that partake in a multi-branch, large-scale exercise such as Red Flag is what’s most valuable for C-17 aircrews.

“The biggest thing from a pilot’s perspective is the integration with all the ‘blue’ air players,” Wendler said. “We get to learn about what their capabilities and limitations are and figure out how we fit into this fight because every mission changes from day to day. We may be doing one mission set on Monday, and then on Wednesday it’s completely different.”

Not only does Red Flag offer the opportunity to collaborate with multiple airframes valuable for pilots, but for members of the crew the exercise offers other set lessons.

“In the back of the C-17 we deal with users, and for Red Flag we’ve had a lot of static-line jumpers and we’ve inserted them into the basic field,” said Senior Airman Ashley Igalo, a 14th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “We’re also capable of rapid on-loads, where we’ll land and pickup vehicles and troops during one period of darkness. It’s great training to be able to get experience that.”

Not only do they gain experience, but learning to work together to accomplish the mission is a valuable skill that Red Flag provides the aircrew.

“Red Flag is good crew coordination because we’re able to work with the pilots and see what we are able to do,” Igalo said. “As well as being great for crew coordination it serves as great training for us in the back.”

With the ability to give pilots and crews influential training, not only within their own squadron but with the rest of the Air Force’s airframes, one aspect that’s often overlooked is the intelligence angle behind the Red Flag missions.

“We’re proud to support one of the only Air Mobility Command units at Red Flag 16-3,” said 1st Lt. Robert Wedge, a 437th Operations Group intelligence officer. “The expeditionary missions that we are serving in, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve, largely represent threats from insurgent, non-state actors. What Red Flag does very well is leading us to plan against full spectrum threats typical of major combat operations.”

Red Flag grants intelligence personnel here the same valuable tool that it does pilots -- the ability to integrate with multiple platforms in order to train to accomplish a larger mission.

“Getting to integrate with intelligence Airmen from cyber, space, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance backgrounds sharpens our ability to accomplish our primary mission, to successfully deliver forces on time and on target in high threat environments,” Wedge said.

With all of these different aspects, pilots, crew and intelligence, gaining high level training at the same time, it serves as a great chance to study and grow in order to accomplish the mission more effectively.

“The opportunity to learn and see how we fit, and then optimize and use those things that we’ve learned in the fight when we’re kicking down the door for real is something that we can’t do anywhere else,” Wendler said.

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