Hill F-35s in Alaska

An F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base and an F-16 "aggressor" from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, fly over Alaska on Aug. 17, 2020. The 4th Fighter Squadron, from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill, recently returned from three weeks of training in Alaska.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After a three-week training deployment in Alaska, airmen from Hill Air Force Base say they’re ready if ever called upon to fight a war in the Pacific — at least for the first day.

Micah Garbarino, spokesperson for the 388th Fighter Wing, said a large contingent of fighter jets and airmen from Hill returned from Alaska last week, after spending nearly a month training in the open space of the extreme northwest. In July, members of Hill’s 4th Fighter Squadron deployed to Eielson Air Force Base to participate in a large-scale military training exercise known as “Red Flag Alaska.”

Originally designed after the Vietnam War to provide young pilots experience before heading into combat, Garbarino said Red Flag provides a validation of an entire squadron’s readiness — from pilots to maintainers, intelligence and other support personnel.

The exercise took place over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which has more than 67,000 square miles of air space. During the exercise, a friendly “Blue Force” takes on an enemy “Red Force” — a scheme meant to replicate a battle against near-equal enemies during a large conflict. The Alaskan exercise focuses on combat that could take place in the military’s Pacific Command region, which begins near the waters off the west coast of the U.S., to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole.

In addition to the Hill unit, Garbarino said the exercise also included F-35As from Eielson; F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota; KC-135 Stratotankers from Fairchild AFB, Washington; and special operations forces on the ground.

Capt. Christian Lindenberg, an F-35 pilot at Hill, said the training mostly consisted of scenarios that focused on “day one of the war,” with the Alaskan air space populated with aircraft flown by seasoned pilots playing the role of “aggressors.”

The Hill squadron flew up to 16 sorties each training day during the exercise. Typical mission days started at 5 a.m. and lasted for 12 hours, Lindenberg said, beginning with a pre-dawn brief from the mission commander. After the briefing, Lindenberg said it was time to go “kick down the door” with a mass showing of air power, though the most critical training element for pilots came after the flying stopped, he said, with crews reviewing and deconstructing the mission.

“It’s the most valuable part of any sortie,” Lindenberg said. “It’s where we pinpoint what we could’ve done better, even if the mission was a success.”

Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th Fighter Squadron commander, said the young pilots, maintainers, intelligence, cyber and other support personnel in his squadron performed well during the exercise and will benefit during any real-world operations they might be tasked for.

“The enemy didn’t stand a chance in the training scenarios,” he said. “We expect the same outcome if called upon to execute this mission in combat.”

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