Monday, February 1, 2010

Red Flag... (aka, NavyGuy in Vegas)

NavyGuy has spent the past week in Las Vegas, with his squadron, completing Red Flag training exercises. Here's your brief (and simplified) military/history lesson for the day.

Red Flag is advanced, aerial combat training exercises that are held at Nellis Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military recognized that it was not adequately training its pilots and flight officers for actual combat missions. An Air Force study discovered that a pilot's odds for survival dramatically increased after participation in 10 combat missions. The Pentagon decided it needed to provide more combat mission experience for pilots, in a controlled and safe environment.

Thus, Red Flag was born. Pilots, flight officers, air crew, and others spend two weeks completing flying missions in the desert outside Sin City. There is a "good guys" Blue Team, comprised of the visiting squadrons, and a "bad guys" Red Team, made up of Air Force and Navy pilots trained to provide realistic threats (in other words, trained to be the enemy). It is a huge, complicated event. Upwards of 50 different aircraft can be participating at one time - all in an attempt to simulate real combat conditions.

So, that's the general gist of what NavyGuy has been in Las Vegas for. Of course I can't just leave it at that - I have to add my own impressions of what Red Flag entails...

~ Okay, let's begin with the fact that my (and your) tax dollars are paying to put him up in his own room at the Embassy Suites for two weeks. Yes, he's serving his country, sacrificing, etc., so it's a small price to pay that he should be comfortable. But really? Couldn't he have shared the room with one other guy?

~ Red Flag is somewhat of a bonding experience for the squadron. Most squadrons participate pre-deployment, so it's a chance for all the guys (and gals) to get to know one another better, and gain each others trust in the airplanes. Weekdays (and nights) are filled with mission planning, flights, briefs, debriefs, and occasionally sleeping. Hence the weekends are filled with fun and frivolity (and more sleep). They are on the Vegas strip after all. NavyGuy has been to many of the major casinos, seen the fountain at the Bellagio, eaten at some great restaurants, visited Hoover Dam, and proven once and for all that he's a terrible gambler.

~ Along those same lines, Red Flag is often when people who are new to the squadron get their official call sign. After what I'm sure must have been "spirited" debate amongst the squadron, NavyGuy will forevermore be known as Ginger. Because of the red hair. And possibly because of a stretchy red dress that he wore at one of the social events soon after the group arrived in Vegas. Allegedly there are many photos of the ensemble... I'm glad the call sign is something I can explain to children and the elderly without embarrassment or shame, but I have to admit it's a little predictable. So I think we'll still call him NavyGuy around here. (Sorry HistoryGirlie, we can't petition to have his call sign changed to Maverick. I already asked.)

~ NavyGuy has this week left, and should be home sometime over the weekend. So far he's been doing primarily night flights, which means he goes into the squadron around lunchtime, and gets back to his fancy hotel room between 2 and 3am. I think he has one more night flight tonight, and then switches to days for the remainder of the exercises.

Perhaps we'll get NavyGuy's perspective on the whole thing when he returns. From the wife side of things, it's annoying having him gone for more time, so soon before he's going to deploy. He's perpetually tired while he's there, and in my case, I wasn't able to fly down and visit him at all. But you can't argue with the Navy, and increasing his odds of being effective, successful, and safe when he is flying missions with real enemies is worth the annoyance.

If you want to know more about Red Flag, there is a good video series on YouTube. Each part is about 10 minutes long (they resemble History Channel type documentaries, but I'm not 100% sure on the source). I haven't watched all of them yet, but they will definitely give you a good look at Red Flag, plus the perspective of many of the participants.

Red Flag Video, Part 1
Red Flag Video, Part 2
Red Flag Video, Part 3
Red Flag Video, Part 4
Red Flag Video, Part 5


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