The 366th Fighter Wing is located in the middle of nowhere in southern Idaho, nearly an hour away from a large city. Not exactly the description of a place one would expect military forces from every U.S. service and foreign allies would be excited to visit.
In reality, Mountain Home’s 110,000 acre range provides an ideal training setting with one of the biggest air spaces in the country, and exercises like Gunfighter Flag that accommodate joint service combat training to simulate deployed situations.
“It’s fully aimed at building and maintaining interoperability,” said Lt. Col. David Och, 389th Fighter Squadron commander. “We realize that within the Air Force and in the other services, we need to be ready to deploy and employ at a moment’s notice. That’s what we’re practicing and that’s what we train to do. We assess our capability and make sure we’re better at the completion of the exercise than when we began.”
It’s one of the bigger exercises that Mountain Home hosts, most recently having members of the Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Navy and Marines accounting for over eight different air frames in play.
“Participating in this exercise gives us important feedback of how effective our jamming is in relation to keeping all friendly aircraft from being shot down,” said Lt. Benjamin M Watters, Electronic Attack Squadron 138 personnel officer. “More importantly, we get great practice in rehearsing how we will best work alongside the Air Force in order to be as successful as we can in case we have to execute real world.”
Mountain Home’s air space isn’t the only attraction, but the threat emitters the 266th Range Squadron offers puts Gunfighter Flag on a variety of military branches radars.
“We coordinate with all the different air traffic control agencies that are around us for all the aircraft from different bases and locations that are coming in and out,” said Lt. Col. Jody Wolfley, 266th RANS Cowboy Control commander. “We manage all the ground movement if necessary for people down range to make sure there isn’t anybody where they’re not supposed to be.”
The terrain also gives a similar feel of what might be encountered in a deployed environment, which is paramount for both the air crew above and ground forces operating below.
Light snow and thick fog enveloped the area each day during the most recent Gunfighter Flag, but the participants did what they could to improvise, adapt and overcome. Even in the rough weather when flying was delayed, training was conducted on the ground to sharpen their Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape tactics.
“We’re focused on the isolated personnel on the ground, figuring out where they’re going to be and how they’re going to incorporate into the greater scenario that’s happening for the air players,” said Staff Sgt. Cassidy Steffen, 366th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist.
SERE trains to whatever scenario is happening in the air, getting mock downed aircrew in contact with their counterparts above while avoiding threats such as enemy scouts and dog teams.
Lt. Mike Shufeldt, 190th Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot expressed the belief in practicing how you play. Gunfighter Flag creates a perfect setting to learn the different languages and tactics of each branch, allowing them to work better as a total force.
“We live pretty close to the surface, but it’s a good eye opener to see what that fight above the Army’s responsibility looks like as far as the whole picture of the battlefield,” said Chief Warrant Officer Nathan Spaulding, Gowen Field UH-60 training pilot.
To ensure all training is met for downrange missions, Gunfighter Flag hits on every facet of needed war fighting skills to ensure safety, for not only the United States but our allies as well.
“I truly believe Gunfighter Flag is what makes Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Gunfighters unique,” said Och. “We have (in my opinion) the best combat training airspace and range in the United States, and we bring in assets that want to train there that want to train with us. We can put together incredibly realistic scenarios to ensure that we are training for the top end fight.”