Green Flag: Bridging the gap between AF, Army training

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tonya Keebaugh
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
"If the band played a piece first with the piccolo, then with the brass horn, then with the clarinet, and then with the trumpet, there would be a hell of a lot noise, but no music. To get harmony in the music, each instrument must support the others. To get harmony in battle, each weapon must support the others. Team play wins."
- Gen . George S. Patton 

The Air Warrior exercises were created 23 years ago to give the Army an "air presence" over the battlefield while they were training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. In order to maintain a ready, integrated force, the Air Force transformed Air Warrior, which was a practice in close-air support for a technologically-advanced war, to Green Flag, which is now a pre-deployment exercise for Airmen and a practice in "jointness" for both the Air Force and Army. Green Flag now focuses Airmen on not just CAS, but also counter-insurgency support, shows of force, force protection and counter-IED missions - all of which they are performing in the Global War on Terrorism. 

"A few years ago, the Army transitioned to more of a 'mission-rehearsal' exercise for what they're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Col. Thomas Webster, Joint Air Ground Operations Group commander here. The Army transitioned their training at NTC and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., to ensure units attending an NTC or JRTC rotation were doing so just prior to their scheduled deployment and being trained in areas significant to the war - the Air Force followed suit. 

When Airmen and Soldiers now have boots on the ground in a war zone, their situational awareness is fresh, relevant and intense. The training was built to imitate in two weeks what Airmen and Soldiers would normally see in a year of combat. 

The practice war is played out on a massive range at NTC which includes towns with multiple buildings, actual people acting as villagers. The role-players act as elected officials, U.N. troops, a hotdog vendor and the media, who even provide broadcasts during the exercise - it provides an unmatched realism to the training. 

"Green Flag has been phenomenal at replicating the location and types of atmospheres," said Capt. Steven Christensen, F-15E weapons system officer, 335th Fighter Squadron, Seymour-Johnson AFB, N.C. "They've done and excellent job here and built us a harder scenario here than hopefully we'll have to deal with down the road."
During an NTC or JRTC rotation for the Army, the Air Force hosts a Green Flag-West or Green Flag-East rotation for Air Force units preparing to deploy. Green Flag-West 07-07 ran from April 23 through May 4 and had six F-15E Strike Eagles from the 335th FS, SJAFB, and about 14 Air Force joint-terminal-attack controllers from the 15th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Stewart, Ga. 

Green Flag incorporates lessons learned from the current war and incorporates scenarios for the aircrews, the JTACs and the ground forces in a realistic, comprehensive environment. 

During Green Flag, "we work in urban environments against these simulated towns that look just like what we face in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Lt. Col. James Jinnette, 335th FS commander, who has 500 combat hours in the F-15E. "We learn how to integrate with the Army - our brothers on the ground - and also learn how to integrate with our important (unmanned aerial vehicle) assets that we have ... (this training is) very realistic, based on my own experience." 

Realism is the goal for the Air Force and the Army during this training - but working closely for the two services requires an acceptance of each other's roles.
"It's a challenging environment we operate in," said Colonel Webster. "Our partnership with the land force - culturally, we think so much differently." 

The Army is the expert in ground warfare while the Air Force holds air power expertise, he explained. 

"(We) bring our expertise to the fight," said the colonel. "The JAGOG really works that seam between the Air Force and the Army - our job is to close that up." 

The JAGOG closes that seam everyday by being the only Air Force agency dedicated to training Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and coalition forces in coordinated joint air ground operations. Their mission has gotten more attention since the beginning of the war. 

"Before 9-11, we were a pretty much 'break-in-case-of-emergency' type career field," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Skowronski, 15th ASOS JTAC. He explained how although the JTACs are assigned to Army units, many of the soldiers they worked with before September 11, 2001, didn't understand what the Airman working next to him actually did for the Army Division or Brigade. The 15th ASOS deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart during the initial push of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The small group of Airman brought an amazing effect to the battlefield for their unit, he said. 

"They know who their JTAC is now," said Sergeant Skowronski. "Anyone who was there during OIF-1 understands what we bring to this fight - and they're pretty happy about it."
Since that initial push into Afghanistan and Baghdad, the war has been multi-faceted - with all services having to re-evaluate how to fight this war effectively. 

"Back in the day, we practiced for the tank-on-tank, force-on-force war," said Staff Sgt. Jeff Lawrence, JTAC observer/controller with the 12th Combat Training Squadron, Fort Irwin, which falls under the JAGOG. "We weren't fighting in a town - we were up on a hill with the perfect vantage point to call in air strikes. Now we're no kidding in the middle of a city taking sniper fire coordinating support - and we're fighting one or a few guys at a time - not an army." 

The support the JTACs are now coordinating extends well beyond the CAS of yesterday. Today they're using Air Force assets in ways they were never used before. The targets they are searching for a small, scattered, and illusive. Gone are the days of taking out a bomb-making factory - now the bombs are Improvised Explosive Devises being made in the basement of a house or caves in a mountain. The techniques used against America's current enemy are being honed and perfected daily. 

"We routinely strafe in the mountains of Afghanistan in a CAS role which at one point, we never did," said Colonel Jinnette, who has been flying the F-15E for more than 15 years. The Strike Eagle pilot also said they work in concert as an integrated team with the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, which the flyers practiced with at Green Flag for the first time, to find and pinpoint targets on the ground. 

We can "hit a very specific DMPI (desired mean point of impact) using the advanced targeting pod and our 20mm cannon," said the colonel. "The capabilities we have really stemming from the integration of technology in coordination with new weapons systems - including the UAVs - really are bringing lethal weapons to great effect down range." 

Although the war being waged is a ground war - the support the Air Force provides is essential - basic aerospace doctrine states, "Although close air support is the least efficient application of aerospace forces, at times, it may be the most critical by ensuring the success and survival of surface forces." 

Sergeant Lawrence said it plainly, "Close air support isn't the Army's focus - it's the icing on the cake. Airmen are intermingled with the Army - so when the ground commander sees you, he thinks, 'There's my Air Force guy if I need air,' and it's comforting to him." 

It's also comforting for the JAGOG troops to know they are providing the best possible training to Airmen before they deploy. 

"We're preventative medicine," said Sergeant Lawrence. "If we train them right here before they deploy, then it may save their life over there." 

Colonel Webster also appreciates his group's value to the GWOT, "When (Airmen) are in the desert, they call us five or six months later and say they're seeing exactly what they saw here - that really is our goal - to prepare people for what they're seeing in the fight today."