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Gunfighter Flag wraps up

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron out of Tinker AFB, Okla., sits on the flightline Sept. 21 during Gunfighter Flag. The 963rd AWACS participated as friendly "blue air" forces during the exercise. Gunfighter Flag, which ran from Sept. 14 through 24, was Mountain Home's first ever large-scale, multi-national exercise which brought more than 450 personnel from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Canadian air force to Mountain Home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron out of Tinker AFB, Okla., sits on the flightline Sept. 21 during Gunfighter Flag. The 963rd AWACS participated as friendly "blue air" forces during the exercise. Gunfighter Flag, which ran from Sept. 14 through 24, was Mountain Home's first ever large-scale, multi-national exercise which brought more than 450 personnel from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Canadian air force to Mountain Home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Gunfighter Flag wrapped up Sept. 24 in what the wing commander deemed a "grand slam."

"We don't often have the opportunity to practice large-force employment on this scale," said Col. John Bird, 366th Fighter Wing commander. "What we did here over the last two weeks rivals what you see at Red Flag and Maple Flag."

Gunfighter Flag is a multi-national exercise which brought more than 450 personnel from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Canadian air force to Mountain Home.

"It's aimed at large-force deployments, and we get as many aircraft as we possibly can to integrate together," said Maj. Matt Vincent, 390th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations.

The benefits of working with different airframes make exercises like Gunfighter Flag invaluable.

"It lets us know how a different airframe employs," said Major Vincent. "We have more knowledge of how other aircraft integrate into large-force packages and how most effectively to take advantage of these capabilities."

For the 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, the exercise was an opportunity to strengthen ties with American forces and train with capabilities not readily available to them at home station.

"This was a great opportunity for us to come and do a large-scale exercise with the Americans," said Canadian air force Capt. Erick O'Connor, 409th TFS fighter pilot. "It is a smaller scale but you still get a good training value out of it. What's good about this exercise is the surface-to-air threat capabilities that we don't have in Canada. The ability to replicate the threat from the ground to the air and see how we should protect ourselves from that is really good."

Throughout the exercise, "red air" participants represented enemy forces and consisted of the 507th Air Defense Aggressor Squadron and 64th Aggressor Squadron with their F-16 Fighting Falcons from Nellis AFB, Nev., and the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron from Schriever AFB, Colo.

"It's our job to know, teach and replicate any threat," said Maj. Josh Spear, 64th AGS instructor pilot. "We provide different scenarios based on what they want to train on not only with the flying aggressors but with our space aggressors and our air defense aggressors as well."

While the 64th AGS brings the air threat, the 527th SAS can provide global positioning system jamming to add realism to the scenario while the 507th ADAS simulates surface-to-air threats.

"Blue air" participants represented friendly forces and consisted of the F-15C Eagles from the 390th FS and F-15E Strike Eagles from the 389th FS and 391st FS out of Mountain Home; CF-18 Hornets from the 409th TFS; EA-6B Prowlers from the Tactical Electronic Attack Squadron 137 out of Whidbey Island NAS, Wash.; E-3 Sentries from the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron out of Tinker AFB, Okla., and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 197th Air Refueling Squadron out of the Phoenix Air National Guard, Ariz.

"We put on a mini-war," said Major Vincent. "While it's not as big as Red Flag or Maple Flag, we still get the same training out of it. It's also nice that we get that kind of training here at home versus on the road, and the biggest thing is that our airspace is really close. Here, it's basically five minutes after you take off, the war is on, so you use all of your fuel fighting."

Missions included offensive counter air, which simulated flying into enemy territory, gaining air superiority, striking targets and flying back to friendly territory; defensive counter air, which simulated enemy aircraft attempting to fly into friendly airspace; and high value airborne asset protection, which simulated enemy aircraft attempting to shoot down a high-value asset such as a tanker or airborne warning and control system.

Throughout the exercise, anywhere from 60 to 70 aircraft participated each day, but it was up to the maintainers on the ground to keep those aircraft flying.

"These jets will not fly without us," said Senior Airman Jared Basile, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief from Nellis.

For the 57th AMXS, exercises like this also give them an opportunity to get new experiences.

"For a lot of us, we've never been to this type of location before, and it's a way for us to interact with other guys we've never got to work with before," said Staff Sgt. Lance Murphy, 57th AMXS. "We're coming into their house instead of them coming to us, so this is all new terrain, location -- everything's different from what we're used to back at home station."

Overall, the exercise wouldn't have been successful without the hundreds of support personnel who keep the aircrews and aircraft flight ready.

"It was a pretty impressive operation with so many aircraft airborne," said Colonel Bird. "We can only pull this off with the absolute professionalism and airmanship of all the participants, as well as the entire Gunfighter team that was supporting the exercise - from airfield operations and radar approach and control to maintenance and the 366th Force Support Squadron. This was a tremendous training opportunity for all of us, and I think we took full advantage of it."