June 16, 2016 (by MSgt. James Branch) - More than 70 Airmen from the 94th Airlift Wing recently took part in Maple Flag 49, an annual international air exercise, at 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta.
German special forces paratroopers exit via static line jump from a 94th AW C-130 Hercules over Jimmy Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, on June 7, 2016, during Maple Flag 49. [Royal Canadian Army photo by Cpl. Manuela Berger]
Each year, allied forces from around the world seek to prepare their service members for tactical global operations. They came together from May 30-June 10 for air-to-air, air-to-surface and close air support operations in a simulated combat environment.
Participating for the third time, the wing sought to invest its resources into its future fighting force.
Lt. Col. Thomas Moffatt, the 700th Airlift Squadron director of operations and 94th AW Maple Flag mission commander, designed a detailed plan to meet that objective.
“Our objective is to provide Air Force Reserve Command with combat ready aircrew members,” Moffatt said. “A unique way we approach Maple Flag is that we put our up and coming pilots in positions of authority. They serve as aircraft commanders. The more experienced aircrew members serve as planners and mentors, providing guidance to the less experienced. This helps us to develop skilled tactical warfighters.”
From the aircraft commanders, co-pilots, planning cells, and maintenance personnel to aircrew life support, all first-time exercise attendees took advantage of the experience passed on from veteran Maple Flag participants.
“The unique thing about Maple Flag is that it offers us control of our scenarios, so we can give our aircrews the training they need,” said Capt. Jamie Atkinson, a 700th AS C-130 Hercules pilot and aircraft commander. “It allowed us to work with different weapon systems, as well as air and ground forces from different countries.
“From a planner's perspective, the challenge was learning how to integrate these different weapon systems and tactics while being able to put together an effective mission plan,” he added. “For the aircrews flying the missions, we had to make sure we were meeting our objectives, while flying in an environment that was always changing due to enemy threats, weather or other sources.”
Since their first Maple Flag exercise in 2013, 94th AW members have taken the opportunity to participate whenever their schedule allows.
“The timeline for this annual exercise works great for us because it gives us a year on to participate, and a year off to fulfill our deployment obligation,” Moffatt said. “It’s a win for both the 94th AW and AFRC.”
Although Maple Flag 47 in 2014 was a big operation for AFRC with eight C-130s participating from various wings, there were significant changes this year for Maple Flag 49.
According to Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Vuri Mokievsky-Zubok, the Maple Flag deputy lead planner, exercise 47 was reduced due to real-world commitments. The normal NATO fighter aircraft did not participate, reducing the scenarios to transport aircraft only.
This year, Canadian, French, German and Belgium fighter aircraft were present.
Tactical aircraft participation included air-to-air refueling aircraft, airborne warning and control systems, long-range patrol aircraft, tactical helicopters and C-130s from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
“We had a record number of participants this year,” Mokievsky-Zubok said. “We hope to get even more for Maple Flag 50.”
Aircrews from the 94th AW flew two rotations per day, one four-ship formation in the morning, teaming up with members of the Kentucky Air National Guard, and a two-ship formation in the afternoon from the Edmonton International Airport in Alberta.
Early morning missions were comprised of paratrooper and equipment airdrops, and then it was off to the 4,478-square-mile air weapons range at the Air Force Tactical Training Center in Cold Lake.
“The range was very challenging,” Atkinson said. “It gave us the opportunity to fully employ our tactics in a low-level training environment. On our local low-level routes at home station, we have restrictions on how low we can fly due to the populated areas in Atlanta. We were able to fly a true low-level while in the range at Cold Lake.”
According to the squadron aviation resource manager, aircrews logged 101 flying hours and performed 54 sorties in simulated combat missions.
“This is by far the best training exercise I’ve ever experienced,” Atkinson said. “A lot (of) real-world training was provided with each mission flown.”