MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho — The 366th Fighter Wing out of Mountain Home Air Force Base hosts Gunfighter Flag twice a year to help pilots prepare to defend our country.
This large-scale, force-on-force exercise features squadrons from Singapore and Australia, different branches of the military, and Air Force pilots from all over the country, showcasing the USA's different jets.
“We have our F-15 E Strike Eagles, we have F-35’s taking off, we have F-15 SG’s, F-16’s and F-18’s as well as some contract red aircraft that we have out there," said Major Duck Lynch, exercise director of Gunfighter Flag 21-1. "In the airspace from other bases, we have B-52's out of Minot Air Force Base, we have F-15 C's out of Portland, we have tanker aircraft out of Beale all joining us for this fight."
In this fight, the Idaho Air National Guard will play the enemy. The group went out in the desert and hid surface-to-air missile threats that they will try to use to stop the pilots from completing their mission.
"It’s a great time to be the bad guy and try to defeat these guys so they can come up with their best plan," said Major Daniel Benfield of the Idaho Air National Guard. "But we are still going to come up with our best plan to stop them from getting to the targets they are trying to get to."
Gunfighter Flag takes six months to prepare for and the base doesn't have the best capabilities to host a large training event, but the airspace is ideal because, within five minutes of take-off, the jets enter military air space that includes nearly 10,000 square miles in southwest Idaho, eastern Oregon, and northern Nevada.
"It is a full effort, we are not a base that is structured to do large exercises on our own so it is a 110 percent from every agency on base," said Lynch. "But to see 40 plus aircraft in the air space practicing what we need to go against our nation’s greatest enemies is going to be my reward."
At the end of every day, pilots learn what they did well and where they could improve in a debrief, and when Gunfighter Flag wraps up on Friday, there will be an award show that rewards the best of the best, then the 366th Fighter Wing will start preparing for the next Gunfighter Flag.
Gunfighter Flag also showcases how much impact the training can be when so many different squadrons, branches of the military, and the Idaho Air National Guard come together.
"This is kind of like the Super Bowl for us our guys are really excited this week to provide the level of training these guys need," said Benfield.