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Alaska 2011: The 104th Fighter Wing deploys to Elmendorf AFB

While deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in support of a training exercise, SrA Kyle Bienia takes oil samples from the F-15 Eagle for the Joint Oil Analysis Program (JOAP).  This program identifies wear metals present in the sample and their probable sources.  This information is used to proactively evaluate the aircraft's condition.(U.S.A.F. photograph by Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

While deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in support of a training exercise, SrA Kyle Bienia takes oil samples from the F-15 Eagle for the Joint Oil Analysis Program (JOAP). This program identifies wear metals present in the sample and their probable sources. This information is used to proactively evaluate the aircraft's condition.(U.S.A.F. photograph by Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

Master Sergeant Turner Fowks, 104th Fighter Wing crew chief, completing necessary maintenance forms after the Mass. Air National Guard F-15 completed a training flight while deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

Master Sergeant Turner Fowks, 104th Fighter Wing crew chief, completing necessary maintenance forms after the Mass. Air National Guard F-15 completed a training flight while deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

The 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, deployed 131 Airmen to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in support of a joint training mission.  (U.S.A.F. photograph by Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

The 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, deployed 131 Airmen to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in support of a joint training mission. (U.S.A.F. photograph by Technical Sergeant, Anthony M. Mutti)

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK -- Over one hundred and thirty Barnstormers and eight F-15C/D Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard traded the heat and humidity of New England for the cool weather and long daylight hours of the Alaskan summer during a training operation at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) Alaska from July 29 to August 14, 2011.

The 104th Fighter Wing mobilized to JBER, Alaska, to partake in a Large Force Exercise (LFE) with the F-15C/D aircraft from the 159th Fighter Group of the Louisiana Air National Guard and other units from throughout the combat Air Force.

The deployment was originally devised as integration training exercise with F-22 Raptor aircraft stationed in Alaska, but the F-22's have remained grounded since May 2011 for a potential oxygen system malfunction. "The stand-down is a prudent measure following recent reports of potential oxygen system malfunctions," said Pacific Air Forces Command spokesman Capt. Martin Gerst.

Despite the F-22's not being able to participate in the integration training the 104th and 159th Fighter Wings decided to complete the operational training deployment as scheduled to take advantage of the airspace and the opportunity to train in a Large Force Exercise.

"We decided to continue with the deployment because we were going to be able to participate in a great training event," said Maj. Jeffrey Beckel, Deployment Project Officer. He added, the airspace and the collaboration with multiple flying wings allows for an ideal environment for an LFE.

LFEs are defined as any exercise that has more than four aircraft playing the role of the allied aircraft (blue-air), defending an airspace or target from opposing forces (red-air). According to Major Beckel, the 104th Fighter Wing simply doesn't have enough resources available at Barnes, ANGB to organize an LFE at home station without assistance from other organizations.

The eight 104th FW F-15C/Ds aircraft will fly in conjunction with eight F-15C/Ds from the 159th Fighter Wing, six F-15s from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and F-16s from the 18th Aggressor Squadron based at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The primary role for the F-16s is to fly as red air. The red-air component is critical to creating a realistic scenario for simulating combat engagements. Large Scale Exercises such as this allow the pilots to fly and train in groups of 6 or 8 aircraft, similar to how they would employ during a real combat situation.

The LFE doesn't just benefit the pilots. "An exercise like this provides an invaluable training opportunity for the transportation, logistics, support and maintenance personnel as they are able to practice deploying to another location," says Maj. Michael Dibrindisi, the Deployed Maintenance Officer from the 104th Fighter Wing.

The 104th Maintenance Operations Flight Unit Deployment Manager, Master Sgt. Richard Duquette, said that one of the biggest challenges of this deployment is related to the time restraints in relation to moving both cargo and personnel. Maj. Beckel and Dibrindisi mentioned weather as another major challenge. It has rained every day flying has been scheduled. The aircraft can fly in inclement weather, but the risk to the pilot and ground crew is increased and the types of training opportunities are limited by decreased visibility.

Despite the weather, the maintenance team has been able to launch the required number of aircraft necessary each day to complete the training objectives. "The jets have been behaving excellent, we completed a 6-turn-6 on Monday and Tuesday, and today we've done a 7-turn-7," said Dibrindisi. Completing 12 aircraft sorties on Monday and Tuesday and 14 sorties on Wednesday has allowed for multiple training scenarios to be completed.

This type of deployment allows the pilots and planners the opportunity to see how to coordinate and communicate with other Air National Guard bases. Beckel noted that this event has helped strengthen the working relationship between the different units, "It allows us to already have some experience working together, so that if we ever do a deployment together, we can begin to work out the kinks during a deployment like this," said Beckel.

The 104th Fighter Wing has been flying F-15C/D aircraft since 2008 and the completion of the Base Realignment and Closure directed actions. The wing underwent a transition from A/O-10 aircraft and an air-to-ground mission to the F-15C/Ds and an air-to-air mission. This event marks the 4th off-site training event for the base since its conversion.