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Snow Bird 2009 ~ ‘Keys’ to Success

Maj Gen. Carter prepares for an orientation ride while at NAS Key West

Maj Gen. Carter prepares for an orientation ride while at NAS Key West

An F-15 D Eagle races by the tower at NAS Key West

An F-15 D Eagle races by the tower at NAS Key West

Members conduct a FOD walk while at NAS Key West.

Members conduct a FOD walk while at NAS Key West.

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts -- After the 104th Fighter Wing was directed to convert from A-10 aircraft to F-15 aircraft in 2005, a series of changes began to unfold; changes in the base infrastructure, manning and now the way it trains. On 7 March the wing participated in its first F-15 deployment exercise. 160 members and 7 F-15s traveled to Key West to engage in dissimilar aircraft intercept training at Naval Air Station Key West.

While flying the A-10s the unit would regularly deploy to engage in combat search and rescue and close air support training along with the US Army and Army National Guard units, this time it was different on many levels. The most evident difference is that all the training was in the realm of air to air combat, a skill set that the pilots of the 104th Fighter Wing gladly accept an opportunity to practice.

With snow still on the ground in New England, 160 wing members packed-up, and transported the flying operation to Naval Air Station Key West. This undertaking marks a historic first step for the wing to become operational in its new mission slated for January of 2010 as they assume responsibly for providing air sovereignty alert from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass. With Exercise Red Flag a few months away, this opportunity allowed Airmen from throughout the base the chance to spread their wings and practice what they will be graded on in Nevada during Red Flag.

With 7 aircraft on the ground at Key West, the first step was completed...get there. Two days later the exercises began, with a pace of 4 aircraft launching at a time, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The 131st Fighter Squadron, attached to the 104th Fighter Wing, flew against both Canadian CF-18 Super Hornets and the US Navy F-18 Hornets in both Red-Air and Blue-Air engagements. While engaging in Red-Air, the pilots would fly the role of an aggressor, mimicking the behaviors and tactics of potential adversaries. While in Blue-Air scenarios, the aviators would practice both offensive counter air and defensive counter air tactics.

"The value of working in these conditions is nearly unmatched," said Capt. Daniel Wittmer, 131 Fighter Squadron Weapons Officer. "Within minutes we were able to engage multiple targets in the local airspace, allowing ample time to run multiple scenarios and capitalize on every training opportunity.
The maintenance and support functions played a key role to making this training opportunity a reality. Throughout the two-week long engagement, the aircraft maintainers generated 43 sorties when only 41 were originally scheduled. They maintained an 80% mission capable rate with a 30 year-old airframe.

"This type of training is critical to our success providing air sovereignty to the north east, specifically when we could be engaged with different types of aircraft crossing into our airspace," said Col Robert T. Brooks Jr., 104th Fighter Wing Commander. "The wing demonstrated that it was still proficient in its expeditionary foundations, generating 7 jets for deployment all while making sure all the support functions were properly equipped and trained was no simple feat."

While conducting this training in Key West, the Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, Maj. Gen. Joseph Carter and the Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Brig. Gen. L. Scott Rice traveled down to view the operation first hand. While at Key West Maj. Gen. Carter addressed the Airmen who participated in the exercise.

"The Massachusetts National Guard has met its objectives, you (the deployed Airmen) made it happen, and without question this training opportunity was a complete success at every level," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Cater.

Maj. Gen. Carter took advantage of the opportunity to fly with the 131st Fighter Squadron, learning first hand the stressors supersonic flight can put on ones body and the importance of the training. During his flight he traveled at speeds in excess of 760 miles an hour, traveling faster then the speed of sound.