MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Oct. 15, 2012) -- A detachment of more than 220 Marines and six EA-6B Prowlers is currently training in the cold, thin air of Alaska during RED FLAG-Alaska 13-1, a two week aerial combat training exercise at Eielson Air Force Base, which concludes Oct. 19.
The Marines, from Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons 1 and 4, have been conducting a series of field training exercises with U.S. and coalition forces to provide joint offensive and counter-air interdiction, close-air support and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment.
The training is throughout an area of more than 67,000 square miles throughout Alaska and western Canada. As many as 70 aircraft operate in the airspace simultaneously during the peak of the training. Eielson AFB hosts multiple iterations of the exercise throughout the year and regularly involves armed services from countries around the world.
“The level of complexity is intense,” said EA-6B Prowler pilot Capt. Byron Drader, a native of Bellingham, Wash. “There are so many more players. Dog fights are going on, bombs are being dropped and we’re also executing our mission.”
The Prowlers' mission includes suppressing enemy radar and surface-to-air missiles, utilizing electronic jamming and high-speed anti-radiation missiles and collecting tactical electronic intelligence. During the exercise, the Marines plan to fly five to six missions a day.
“This gives us an opportunity to actually practice our real-world missions in a joint environment with foreign partners,” said Drader. “For a new aircrew, it’s a great opportunity to be exposed to this to see what it’s going to be like before we actually do it.”
The exercise is high tempo, said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Straub, the maintenance control supervisor for VMAQ-1. A native of Merrillville, Ind., Straub’s maintenance expertise on the Prowler goes back more than 12 years.
During the compressed training window the Marines are experiencing in Alaska, they're accomplishing far more than they would in the same time at Cherry Point, Straub added.
The demand is there, said Drader. “We’re flying as much as we can.”
The training in Alaska is being conducted with an eye toward a future deployment to Afghanistan and allows the squadron to train over a variety of terrain and elevations.
“Afghanistan is mountainous and desert. We’re excited to take advantage of this training,” said Drader. “It’s not something we’re able to do a lot.”