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DRILL REPORT: Exercise Green Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada & Fort Irwin, California 7/20-8/3/10 July 21, 2010

Posted by scmla in Drill Report.

Special thanks to Cee for finding this. Her comments are below:

The Local News Shows on TV in Las Vegas have announced the intention of Practice drills by Air Force Jets and Helicopters from the Nellis Air Force Base, to be staged over the Las Vegas Valley. They included the disclaimer of “Nothing to Worry About” when seeing excessive flights of military planes and helicopters.
As this has not happened here before, I don’t believe it is nothing to worry about.
Additionally, another local news station just ran a story today explaining how the Southern Nevada Desert resembles the terrain in the Middle East and that it is ideal for training soldiers who will be deployed to those types of regions.

DRILL REPORT: Exercise Green Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada & Fort Irwin, California 7/20-8/3/10

Where: Nellis AFB, Nevada (and over Las Vegas) and Fort Irwin, California
When: July 20-August 3, 2010
Who: US Air Force and Army

Air, ground forces get in sync
Nellis, Army base sharpen skills in Green Flag training exercise
Keith Rodgers
Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 20, 2010

The next wave of warriors destined for Afghanistan honed their skills Tuesday on the ground and high above the desert, 100 miles west of Las Vegas.

With soldiers calling in airstrikes, the two-week combat training exercise, known as Green Flag, meshes the Air Force with the Army and other ground forces so that the U.S. military is synchronized in fighting the war on terrorism.

The task involves not only sorting out the would-be enemy from civilians and friendly forces, but it also entails precision maneuvering of aircraft to refuel in the air and return to the battlefield to drop bombs and fire cannons with accuracy of within a few feet.

Capt. James Russell, an F-16 fighter pilot, described his experience as he prepared to head to Afghanistan in about a month.

“I was coming off an airstrike that was called in by troops in contact,” he said at Green Flag headquarters at Nellis Air Force Base. “I was running low on gas, so after I dropped one of my bombs, I went to the tanker … and then hurried to get back to that fight as soon as possible and help the Army guys on the ground.”

So how realistic is the training?

“Your heart gets pumping pretty good while you’ve been pulling air-to-ground, and then you really need to slow down and take a breather,” he said about the art of aerial refueling with help from a boom operator aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker, the Air Force’s gas station in the sky. “Slower ends up being faster. You don’t want to rush the boom. You lock it up and let the guy do his job.

“As long as you get within his parameters of where he can fly the boom into your receiver, that’s where you need to be. Then it’s wiggle the fingers, wiggle the toes. Relax. Take a deep breath.”

Boom operator Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Schultz said linking up the nozzle of a fully extended boom to the soda-can-size receiving port atop an F-16 takes a lot of practice.

“We start out in simulators and we do this numerous times. Then we get into the real jet,” Schultz said. “Basically what it comes down to is muscle memory. It’s kind of like a video game where you see something and react to it.”

Pilots of the fighter jet and the Stratotanker must have their aircraft stable and steady while the boom operator at the back of the tanker lies in a prone position to work the joysticks that maneuver the boom into position. This is all done at more than 20,000 feet altitude and flying at more than 500 mph.

“We pretty much just drive him to work,” said Capt. Rob Switzer, commanding pilot of the KC-135 Stratotanker.

With hundreds of refueling flights each, Switzer and his sidekick, Capt. James Studer, have plenty of experience performing the task in combat as well as training. On Tuesday, they refueled 10 F-16 fighters and one RC-135 spy plane.

“Night refueling is the biggest challenge,” Switzer said while flying over the training range. The terrain, he said, looks much like that of southern and western Afghanistan.

“You make your mistakes here so you don’t make them out in that desert.”

While much-publicized Red Flag fighter pilot exercises at Nellis Air Force Base are geared for simulated air combat over the sprawling Nellis range, Green Flag exercises involve dozens of fighter pilots, crews and warplanes interacting with thousands of ground troops at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center in California.

Among the Green Flag goals is to target Taliban and insurgents while avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage.

Army Maj. Terry Adams, ground liaison officer, said training at Fort Irwin, the last stop for combat brigades, “is extremely crucial. It is vital I would argue.”

The National Training Center features mock cities and towns with markets, restaurants and businesses to match those in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. As many as 1,000 civilians dressed to fit the cultures, with contract workers, give soldiers real-life settings resembling where they will be deployed.

“What the soldiers do is they have to negotiate with the people. They have to understand the culture. They have to know the rules of engagement,” Adams said. “The pilots and the soldiers on the ground are in constant communication.”

The rules of engagement have spurred controversy in recent months. While they are aimed at reducing civilian casualties, soldiers have complained that insurgents know what they are and use them to their advantage by using civilians as human shields while putting U.S. troops at risk.

In Afghanistan, Adams said, “the only time you return fire is when you’re life is in imminent danger, there is imminent danger to fellow soldiers and you can’t withdraw. Then you use only the amount of force that’s necessary to stabilize the situation and then withdraw.”

Air Force Maj. James Barlow, Green Flag’s director of operations and a veteran A-10 fighter pilot in Afghanistan, said pilots in simulated training are sometimes baited with targets that aren’t enemy combatants to see whether they make correct decisions.

He said much of the success in avoiding civilian casualties during airstrikes lies in precision targeting.

“We study down to the meter of what each weapon will do … and we train each pilot to be able to make that estimate,” he said. “The enemy’s tactic is to try to blend into the civilian population.

“They know how much time we spend trying to avoid any collateral damage, so they purposely use that as a shield. They try to use our rules of engagement against us,” Barlow said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.



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