The 144th Fighter Wing engages in Checkered Flag 2020
Florida is a lot of things to a lot of people. To some it is a vacation get-away, a retirement location, to others it is a political battleground or maybe the home of unusual wild life. This year for the 144th Fighter Wing, it means Checkered Flag.
Over 150 Airman and eight F-15C Eagle Fighter Jets from the 144th FW participated in the two week air combat training exercise, Checkered Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Nov. 12, 2020.
“Pretty much every airframe that is an air-to-air fighter in the Air Force and Navy inventory participated in the exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Russell Piggott 194th Fighter Squadron commander. “It allows us to do large force employment and training. It is similar from what you may see at a Red Flag, but there is no air-to-ground strikes. Everything is focused on air superiority; air dominance against a very advanced threat. ”
Checkered Flag provides invaluable training for the pilots and the maintainers on the ground.
“I basically coordinate everything on the flight line between maintenance and operations,” said Tech. Sgt. Colleen Dorval, 144th Maintenance Squadron, flight line expediter . “Everything from scheduled maintenance, flying schedules, literally anything that happens on the flight line, I have to see it through and make sure it gets done.”
All of this combined helps maintain a high level of training which the U.S. Air Force requires from its personnel.
“Flying out of Tyndall Air Force Base, especially the gulf of Mexico, is fantastic from a training standpoint,” said Piggott. “The airspace is relatively unrestricted, from the surface to 50,000 feet. We can employ chaff, flares and electronic attacks. We can fly supersonic and we can have large force exercises with a multitude of aircraft in the same airspace."
Checkered Flag provides a unique experience for both the maintainers and pilots to train with live weapons.
“The biggest challenge is probably the time crunch that we are in,” said Dorval. “It tends to be a bit more hectic with the live fire and having to coordinate and reconfigure the aircraft in a time crunch. If we have an aircraft that is loaded with live munitions, we have to mind our safety protocols.”
Firing a live weapon at a moving target is an invaluable experience for a fighter pilot to learn.
“To know what it feels like for an actual weapon to come off your jet before you fly in combat is really important,” said Piggott. “We had eight of our pilots shoot AMRAAM or AIM-120 missiles. We also employed AIM-9 missiles against sub-scale drones. The training is second to none; the ability to fire live weapons is awesome.”
For many young enlisted personnel this was their first experience going on a major exercise like this.
“It's my first TDY, it was a little hectic at first with with getting everything set up, then we got into our groove and now we are already at the end,” said Airman 1st Class John Aldecoa, 144th Maintenance Squadron munitions. “ I have only been in maybe a year and a half and there are a few other A1Cs who have only been in six months. It is good to see everybody adapt and overcome when we encounter obstacles. It gives me a lot of faith in my team, in that later on, if something comes up back home we can work together and figure it out.”
There were many first time experiences that happened through out the ranks.
“This is the first time the 194th fighter squadron air refueled on the brand new KC-46 Pegasus Tanker,” said Piggott. “It brings a lot of capability to the fight; everybody had no issue with refueling on it and we look forward to doing that again in the future.”
This training helps keep the Airman of the 144th FW and the California National Guard ready to face any realistic threat that may happen.
“This training greatly benefits the 144th Fighter Wing and the 194th Fighter Squadron. We can't get this kind of training at our home base,” said Piggott. “We did a great job planning executing, and now we are going to go back and debrief what we did well and what we can improve on. It is these kinds of things that are required to be proficient, to be the tip of the spear, to have our sword sharp so that we can answer the nation's call at a moment's notice.”