[Ed.’s Note: This is part one of a 3-part series of articles profiling the work of Green Flag East and the units utilizing its mission.]
The sights and sounds of freedom are hard to miss when the F-15E Strike Eagles are in town.
Soaring high above Bossier City are the airmen with the 336th fighter squadron, also known as the world famous Rocketeers. The squadron is based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, but spent some time flying the Louisiana skies for training at Barksdale’s Green Flag-East.
The Rocketeers were the first of three back-to-back sessions at Green Flag-East, one of two U.S. locations in charge of training and continuing the development of the Close Air Support (CAS) missions. Training scenarios for visiting fighter squadrons provide the opportunity to train in everything from maritime operations to combat search and rescue missions.
Capt. David Jones, a Weapons System Operator and project officer for the 336th fighter squadron, said they came to Barksdale with specific goals in mind that they wanted to accomplish.
“We told them what we wanted to work on and told them our objectives,” Jones said, noting that it took a couple of months to coordinate their training plans with Barksdale. “We wanted to focus on tactics, techniques and procedures. There’s a need for this across the Air Force and [Barksdale] has the facilities to accommodate it.”
Lt. Col. Brett Waring, Commander of the 548th CTS/Det 1 at Barksdale AFB, said each squadron that comes in is given the option of designing their own training agenda. After an initial planning conference, final plans are decided on 40 to 60 days ahead of the squadron’s arrival.
“They each have their own vision for training and we try to tailor that into individual scenarios,” Waring said. “We can also adapt the scenarios while they are here if needed.”
Green Flag East provides the “Joint” in the JRTC by bringing Air Force, Navy, Marine and even international fighter squadrons to Barksdale AFB. While the Army trains at Ft. Polk, aircrews from around the country are brought in to Barksdale AFB to provide air support for combat scenarios carried out at Ft. Polk.
Capt. Curtis Weddle is another pilot of the F-15E Strike Eagle, which he called a multi-role aircraft. Weddle said they are “currently an active duty Air Force squadron” and training sessions at Green Flag-East are an opportunity to get “ready for whatever might happen” next.
“It’s great way to integrate with the Army because we don’t get to work with large ground forces often,” he said. “We’re not only helping ourselves, but we’re learning how to work with the Army. There’s definitely a learning curve because the Air Force and Army have different concepts on how the battlefield looks.”
Training at Green Flag-East has been a “great experience” for Capt. Ryan Gipson, also an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot. Like Weddle, their collaboration with the Army
“We support the guys on the ground. Seeing fighters in the air is a good sign for them,” Gipson said.
Although he has yet to experience real life combat, Gipson said the knowledge he has gained while at Barksdale is priceless when it comes to “taking care of the ‘bros’ (brothers).”
“I am going to do my job well once I get the chance,” he added. “It’s an honor to be part of the greatest fighter squadron in the world.”
The next group to train at Green Flag-East will be the A-10s. Waring said they may not be as noticeable as the roaring F-15E Strike Eagle.
“Multi-role fighters are loud. When they take off, you’re going to hear them,” he said. “You may never know the A-10s are here, but it’s the sound of freedom. It’s loud, but it’s here for them. We’re all Americans and this is what we do. They are a group of dedicated individuals who put in a large amount of hard work. They don’t do it for the glory. It’s to take care of our own.”
The 336th Fighter Squadron was the first operational F-15E squadron in the US Air Force.
Today, they are assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, part of Air Combat Command’s 9th Air Force and US Central Command Air Forces.
Jones thanked the people at Barksdale for allowing them use of the facilities, lending them air space and for the good food and hospitality by the people of Bossier.