Red Flag: Exercise brings everyone together

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Large-scale exercises like Red Flag hone the skills of even the most experienced fliers and maintenance professionals in the United States Air Force, but from a young lieutenant’s perspective, there’s more to it than skill sharpening.This is the first time 1st Lt. Nathan Stroupe, officer in charge of the 421st Fighter Squadron’s Aircraft Maintenance Unit, has attended Red Flag. He said that, aside from the lessons learned, camaraderie is one of the biggest takeaways for the unit.

“This exercise definitely brings everyone together,” Stroup said. “We get to act more as a fighter squadron instead of the AMU versus operators. 

More than 200 388th Fighter Wing pilots and maintainers and a few 75th Air Base Wing personnel participated in Red Flag 15-2, which ran March 2-13. Since 1975, Red Flag has been one of the world’s largest and most realistic combat training exercises involving U.S. forces and its allies. Red Flag 15-2 featured several U.S. coalition partners, including Norway and NATO.

Stroupe and his AMU team serviced, launched and recovered aircraft while 421st Fighter Squadron pilots flew roughly 18 sorties per day. Stroupe’s main focus was preparing safe, air-worthy jets for the aircrew. Red Flag incorporates the packaging of air assets into the planning of specific missions, and that makes the experience invaluable.

“The experience is pretty surreal. We practice surges back home, but really during a surge we have everything we need at our disposal and it’s 100 percent focused on our flying. Here we have coalition partners that also need the same resources, it’s a balancing act to prioritize your flying with everyone else’s,” said Stroupe.

Aside from this, Red Flag officials provide “injects,” or scenarios that must be treated as real-world occurrences. These can range from support equipment malfunctioning to jets blowing up so they’re unable to be used. This provides a valuable test for Airmen to react, and Red Flag identifies best practices so they can be shared with other AMUs around the Air Force.

“We take a lot of what we experience here so we can apply it in real-world situations. It’s intangible, but the teamwork and camaraderie of an Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is really what we’re trying to build here,” Stroupe said. “The closer maintainers get to the operators and understand their mission, and the better they can understand what we go through on a daily basis, the more it sets us up for success when we deploy.”

“It can be intimidating if you’ve never done Red Flag, because there are a lot of things you don’t know that you don’t know,” Stroupe said. “I’m thankful for everyone in the AMU; they give me the illusion that I make decisions around here — they definitely set me up for success.” 

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