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Red Flag Alaska exercise seeks to boost survival

Sep. 2, 2013 - 10:14AM   |  
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JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, ALASKA — A war broke out in the sky above Alaska last week.

Fortunately, everyone was on the same side.

On Friday, Aug. 23, forces from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base concluded a two-week international training exercise with Japan, Australia and the Republic of Korea with a mock battle.

About 20 aircraft participated in the final day of Red Flag Alaska, which is conducted each year so crewmembers can gain combat experience.

According to JBER, most combat losses occur during a crew’s first eight to 10 missions. Exercises like Red Flag Alaska provide crews with more experience, increasing the likelihood of survival in real combat situations.

Cpt. Zach Coburn was part of a seven-man crew flying in a C-17 Globemaster. Their objective was to fly low and simulate a delivery of supplies while F-22 jets protected them from enemy aircraft at an altitude of 30,000 to 40,000 feet.

The 400,000-pound C-17 can carry up to 170,000 pounds of equipment, Coburn said. Despite its size, the plane needs a strip just 3,500-feet-by-900-feet to land, he said.

Participating in Red Flag Alaska offers U.S. forces a great opportunity to work with other countries, Coburn said.

“It builds international relations,” he said. “It proves to us we can operate together if we needed to.”

The training isn’t to be taken lightly. With so many planes crammed into a small airspace, everyone needs to be vigilant, Coburn said.

“It’s really good training but it can also be very dangerous,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel.”

Once the “war” concluded, Coburn and his crew took off from Allen Army Airfield near Fort Greely to conduct additional training.

As aircraft commander Cpt. Christopher Nary flew the $200 million plane over JBER, the crew dropped a 3,600-pound package before landing.

Most of their training can be conducted in a simulator, Coburn said. But nothing compares to flying a real plane and participating in a real airdrop under combat-like conditions.

“It allows us to get better at what we do,” he said.

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