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Green Flag West: a day in the desert

Joint terminal attack controllers brief 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle pilots during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Joint terminal attack controllers brief 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle pilots during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Dustin Selljes, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, drives a Humvee up a mountain during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Dustin Selljes, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, drives a Humvee up a mountain during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Dustin Selljes, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, steps out of a Humvee during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California.The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Dustin Selljes, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, steps out of a Humvee during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California.The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Michael Pinchiera, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, drives a Humvee during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Michael Pinchiera, 12th Combat Training Squadron joint terminal attack controller, drives a Humvee during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Two UH-72A Lakotas cross paths during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Two UH-72A Lakotas cross paths during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Edward Stewart and Senior Airman Maxwell Menard, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controllers, call in 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Edward Stewart and Senior Airman Maxwell Menard, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controllers, call in 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Edward Stewart, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, watches the skies during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Staff Sgt. Edward Stewart, 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, watches the skies during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Humvees drive down a dirt path during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

Humvees drive down a dirt path during Green Flag West, June 12, 2018, at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC replicates the tough, realistic operational environment that America’s war fighters face in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- On June 12, 2018, I woke up at 01:45, donned my Air Force uniform and headed for the hotel lobby in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the early hours of the morning, temperatures were already rising as I hauled my camera gear and a case of 50 water bottles to the hatchback of our government minivan with my co-worker and three other strangers.

We exchanged names with the weapons systems officer, pilot and a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist while we piled into our vehicle, then drove three hours to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California.

On this day, I had the privilege to observe some of the most critical jobs in the Air Force while they worked together to train, strengthen and improve each other.

We arrived at the Green Flag West operations building, where Joint Terminal Attack Controllers loaded us into Humvees and drove us to the top of a mountain.

While my wingman and I set up our cameras to start coverage, the JTACs briefed the mission plan to the other three members of our party:

The aircrew were going to evade capture while the JTACs were going to simulate the opposing force, and attempt to capture them.

At this moment, the SERE specialist and aircrew ran into the near 100 degree weather, hoping for success.

The clock ticked by and approximately twenty minutes later, the JTACs returned to the mountain in their Humvees under the role of the "enemy."

The JTACs began scouring the mountain in desperate search to capture the three men, while two helicopter UH-72 Lakotas planned to rescue them.

As the Lakotas rose from the sandy hills to begin the search and rescue training of the aircrew, the opposing forces member spotted the pilot and immediately dashed to capture him.

The sheer motivation this guy had to run up the mountain as fast as he did is enough to say that this training was realistic: the JTAC made it a point that he was going tackle the pilot to the ground and stop him from evading.

Before the pilot could make his escape, the JTAC caught him, and the helicopter made its way to save the WSO.

My coworker and I watched in absolute amazement at the top of the mountain as the Lakota circled down, pushing up dirt beneath it as the aircrew scrambled in.

All of the operations I witnessed during this training mission made it obvious to me why it’s so important.

Training against realistic threats, like a simulated enemy barreling down a mountain to capture you, prepares Airmen to react within seconds during real-world operations.

Having the opportunity to witness this training within Green Flag West has increased my respect and confidence in the men and women who sacrifice their lives down-range for our country.