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Wing completes historic Red Flag exercise

Col. Mutsumi Fukushima (left), commander of the Japanese Air Self-Defense
Force element, Col. Greg Nelson, Red Flag Alaska Air Expeditionary Group commander, and Col. Jeongkyu Woo, commander of the Republic of Korea Air Force
element, discuss operations during the multinational exercise.

Col. Mutsumi Fukushima (left), commander of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force element, Col. Greg Nelson, Red Flag Alaska Air Expeditionary Group commander, and Col. Jeongkyu Woo, commander of the Republic of Korea Air Force element, discuss operations during the multinational exercise.

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky Air National Guard made history this summer when 31 of its members deployed to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, to provide the expeditionary group command for a multinational training exercise called Cooperative Cope Thunder 06-03. 

The exercise, also known as Red Flag Alaska, marked the first time that a Guard unit had taken such a lead role, said Col. Greg Nelson, Kentucky's executive support staff officer and the commander of Elmendorf's 35th Air Expeditionary Group during Red Flag.

"As the group command element, the Kentucky Air National Guard provided everything  from personnel reception and bed down to maintenance supervision, airlift  planning, intel support and first sergeant functions," Colonel Nelson said. 

About 250 troops fell under his command during the exercise, including activeduty  personnel from Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and The Netherlands. 

Colonel Nelson described Red Flag Alaska, which ran from July 24 to Aug. 4, as a one of the largest coalition-based aircombat exercises in the Pacific theater. 

The event centered around a scenario in which multinational expeditionary forces based at Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, enter combat to defend a neutral neighbor from a simulated aggressor. 

Colonel Nelson said Red Flag Alaska offered a superior environment in which to train for the scope and complexity real-world missions. 

"The airspace up there -- the Pacific- Alaska Range Complex, or PARC -- is the largest open airspace anywhere in the world," he said. "It gives the flyer a tremendous opportunity to fly and fight in a huge atmosphere. 

"Red Flag Alaska also provides one of the only exercise opportunities in which aircrews get to incorporate inputs outside their normal area of operations. 

"For example, it's not just fighters going against fighters. Instead, the fighters launch, take on fuel, escort airlift, work with ground controllers and coordinate through AWACS. It's a true, complete aerospace exercise."

And this year, for the first time, the Kentucky Air Guard's command role added another unique element. 

"The guys from NATO and Korea and Japan got to see a Reserve Component of the United States Air Force take command of active-duty U.S. and multinational forces," Colonel Nelson said. 

If they had any reservations going in, they certainly didn't have them once the exercise got underway.

 "Everybody was extremely pleased with the operation," Colonel Nelson said. 

Capt. Jaekyong Seo, an F-16 pilot from the Republic of Korea, agreed, calling Red Flag Alaska "an excellent training opportunity to work with the Americans and the other countries to plan and execute a wartime mission." 

The Kentucky element was responsible for a broad range of aircraft, including four active-duty U.S. Air Force C-130s from Yakota Air Base, Japan; a Korean Air Force Special Operations C-130; two German C- 160s; and a NATO E-3 AWACS from The Netherlands. 

Overall, the entire exercise employed about 1,300 participants from such varied countries as Australia, Sweden, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mexico and Mongolia, said Lt. Col. Reggie Smith, operations officer for Red Flag Alaska at Elmendorf.