[Ed.’s Note: This is the introduction to an upcoming series of articles profiling the work of Green Flag East and the units utilizing its mission]
Nestled inside the gates of Barksdale Air Force Base is a squadron dedicated to ensuring the U.S.’s air power stays just like that — powerful.
Green Flag-East is 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 provides the opportunity to train in everything from maritime operations to combat search and rescue missions.
The skies above the ArkLaTex have a new Thunder as our own Green Flag East at Barksdale AFB begins three back-to-back sessions to provide Air Power to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk. Lt. Col. Brett Waring, Commander of the 548th CTS/Det 1 at Barksdale AFB, has orchestrated 16 Green Flag operations with 13 different fighter units.
Exercises provide unique training opportunities that ultimately prepare aircrews and staff for the most likely type of combat operation expected on the contemporary battlefield.
“I would rather our guys learn these lessons here. That’s what it is here for,” Waring said. “If you’re going to fail, fail here. We’re going to throw them the best curveball we’ve got and make them come to terms with the worst situations in combat so when they get there it’s a little bit easier.”
Training scenarios are designed to be dynamic and done in real time, some lasting a day or more with continuous, uninterrupted scenario play in controlled environments. Green Flag-East has an opportunity to fully integrate and train with the men and women in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Polk in Leesville.
“The Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk will bring in brigade combat teams, consisting of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, up to 10 times each year,” Waring explained. “The Air Force supports that with our parent squadron, the 548th Combat Training Squadron (CTS), which is headquartered at Ft. Polk with a detachment here [at Barksdale AFB]. When those soldiers come in, the Air Force tries between six to eight times a year to assign one fighter squadron that will ideally be supporting that same brigade down range.”
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. The army is up against a crew of actors providing highly detailed simulations of insurgent battles with differing terrains, ala Afghanistan or Iraq. In conjunction with those ground forces, the crews at Barksdale are going through their own simulations relevant to the faux battle on the grounds below.
The current training crew at Barksdale is from North Carolina, flying the F-15E Strike Eagle, and is undergoing various exercises to prepare them for what they will encounter in the real battlefield.
“We bring in around 150 to 250 personnel for each rotation here,” Waring continued. “When you talk about combat capability, we really are about one-fourth of what an entire [Army] brigade has just by having 14 fighter aircraft out on the ramp. I like to equate that as one Air Force fighter squadron, fire power-wise, is about the same as an Army battalion (four battalions will make up a brigade). By having the Air Force involved with this, that brigade combat team commander is receiving, essentially, an extra battalions worth of fire support.”
Ultimately, exercise scenarios are timely in that they give aircrews a chance to hone their skills in case of a deployment situation. Waring said military officials are always alert, aware and focused on the future.
“There is a vast difference in perspective for what we see on the same battlefield,” he added. “For a long time, our rotations here focused almost exclusively on the counter insurgency fight of Iraq and Afghanistan. We still have some elements of that, but we are now focused on the future and what the next fight could potentially look like.”
Professional training at Green Flag-East applies to current combat lessons to ensure continued success on the battlefield. The next group to train will be coming in next month with A-10s.
Waring said they will, again, explore the range of what the aircrews can do and challenge them to be their best.
“We try to give them as much training as we can while they are here,” he said. “There’s no way to tell when or where the next fight will happen.”