RAAF Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia --
Representatives from the Iowa Air National Guard's two flying wings are in Williamtown New South Wales, Australia for a month long exercise "Sentry Down Under". Over one hundred Airmen from the Des Moines's 132nd Fighter Wing (FW) and Sioux City's 185th Air Refueling Wing (ARW), as well as seven F-16s and a KC-135 are working alongside the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) 2nd Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) and the 3rd and 77th Operational Support Squadron's based at RAAF Williamtown.
"We are flying BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) with the flight instructors and the students. They have had their eyes opened with what the F-16 can do," said Lt Col Todd Sheridian, Director of Operations for the 132nd Fighter Wing. Sheridian, also a pilot with the 132nd, added, "We are here to train with an international partner and strengthen that international partnership."
Both the 185th and the 132nd deploy regularly in support of the U.S. Air Force's Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) in direct support of ongoing contingencies like Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The "Sentry Down Under" exercise provides the Air Force and the RAAF an opportunity to gain an understanding of how to shoot, move, and communicate in a less austere environment.
This exercise pits the 132nd's F-16 fighter aircraft against the RAAF's F-18 Hornets, which gives pilots from both Air Forces an opportunity to adapt to new fighting styles.
"He is trying to get in a knife fight," Col. Sheridian laughed while describing the fighting style of the F-18 pilot. With a limited angle of attack, F-18 pilots often attempt to entice F-16 pilots to go at a slower pace. With this style, F-18 pilots are able to exploit their capabilities against the smaller and quicker F-16. Sheridian compared this style to the Russian made MIG-29. "When you let a Hornet get slow and you get slow with them, you lose the fight."
In addition to pilot training, many of the aircraft maintainers from the Iowa Air National guard are gaining much needed experience. With the high tempo of the exercise, the maintainers are learning what is needed to produce sorties in a war time environment. "We don't always get that out of a drill weekend, so the experience we get here in two solid weeks of daily exposure is huge for us," said Col. Randy Greenwood, Maintenance Group Commander for the 132nd.
The Iowa Air National Guard maintainers are also learning the intricacies of maintaining the F-18 and the RAAF is doing the same with the F-16. "We are getting some interesting feedback. They have a breakdown of about three specialty areas they call 'General Technicians,' which covers Power plant, Air Frame, Hydraulics, and Wheel and Tire. That is one complete skill set for them. Whereas for us each one of those is an independent AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code)," said Greenwood.
The air and ground crews from the 185th ARW are also gaining some important experience during this exercise. The crews do not regularly refuel with the Probe and Drogue, a refueling configuration used primarily by U.S. Navy aircraft. With the F-16, the Boom Operator has most of the control during the mid-air refueling process. However, with the F-18, the roles are reversed. The Boom Operator extends the boom and the Hornet pilot must maneuver to "catch the basket."
For some of the Boom Operators from Sioux City, this is the first time they have used the Probe and Drogue. "When we go overseas, we do a lot of probe and drogue, so this is a really great training for our boom operators who have not worked with the F-18 before," said Master Sgt. Dudley Joins, a boom operator with the 185th.
For Airmen from both Iowa National Guard units this deployment was a once in life time experience. The few weeks spent in Australia will have added a wealth of experience and helped cement a cohesive relationship with an important coalition partner.