Red Flag-Alaska 23-1 wraps up this week at Eielson Air Force Base.

Red flag exercises are wrapping up this week at Eielson Air Force Base.
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 12:12 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - It’s an opportunity to teach and to learn. The mission is all the same; stay lethal and stay alive.

As Red Flag-Alaska 23-1 (RF-A23-1) wraps up the final week of exercises at Eielson Air Force Base, pilots are stressed, and tested on what they have learned.

Major Shawn “Coach” McGoffin is the Director of Operations with the 18th Aggressor Squadron. He said Red Flag gives pilots an opportunity to put it all to the test. Adding, if a pilot goes through 10 missions, the likelihood of his survival in a combat situation increases exponentially.

“So that is what Red Flag is designed to do, is to give pilots their first 10 missions in the most complex stressful environment possible,” said McGoffin. “When they go off to combat they would be able to execute in accordance with what they have been trained to do.”

McGoffin and the 18th Aggressor Squadron make up the Blue Foxes. They fly “Red Air,” and they are also known as the “Bad Guys.” Their job is to help train the “Blue Air.” McGoffin says because Eielson is their home base, they have the upper hand.

“We have the home-field advantage,” he said. “We know the tricks. We know which mountain to hide behind. We know which valley they are not going to have, and they are not going to look down in order to keep themselves safe.”

But that’s the point. During the first week, the pilots are typically stressed. They are in a new territory, on someone else’s “turf,” and McGoffin says Red Flag is designed to be harder than actual combat.

Additionally, training exercises like this make real-life combat situations “second nature” to the pilots. By the second week, “All that rust has been knocked away,” he said. “And they go out there and they just win and they win hard.”

The goal for the pilots, maintenance, and support groups is to build confidence throughout the exercise.

McGoffin explained for the pilots the goal is for the participants to have the confidence at the end of the exercise to “go out and fight” even with the high-end threat that the aggressors provide. “No matter how hard the aggressors fight, no matter how many tricks that we use, no matter how threat represented we are, they will take it and go “Got it,” said McGoffin. “And they are going to win and that is the goal that we have for our blue forces.”

Along with extensive training, Red Flag also brings U.S pilots and Allied Pacific Forces to one place to learn together. McGoffin said being able to interact with coalition allies is one thing Reg Flag does well.

“They have to rely on us, we have to rely on them,” he said. “I really enjoy that interaction with them because not,” it’s not just as a professional pilot in the military,” now we look at the cultural differences that we have and we work through those as well,” Said McGoffin.

Those participating in RF-A 23-1 are part of the Pacific Air Force (PACAF), including F-16s from Misawa Air Base, F-15s from Kadena AB, Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130s, Royal Air Force C-130s, multiple U.S. C-17s, C-130s, KC-135s, U.S. and [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] E-3s participating in the exercise, according to a press release by the 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs.

Altogether, there are roughly 1,600 service members participating in the event.

“They tell us how it is living in Japan, how it is living in Korea, and even though most of us have lived in Japan and Korea, we talk the same talk sometimes and it’s really awesome to see that,” said McGoffin. “They may not see each other face to face, but having a red flag and having the participants work together in a Red Flag and being able to integrate with each other is what the main goal.”

RF-A 23-1 is scheduled to run through October 21, 2022.