A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Training

By MS. KIM KNIGHT, Staff Writer

Training helps keep troops sharp and ready to carry out their missions. However, there is training—and then there is Green Flag Little Rock!

The 34th Combat Training Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas executes Green Flag, Air Mobility Command’s only joint accredited flag level exercise. Its primary objective is to support the U.S. Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center and provide a simulated combat environment with emphasis on joint force integration. No two exercises are the same, which helps the mobility enterprise continually challenge its warfighting skills, while providing real-world experiences with partners they may not be able to get at home.

That is the official description. But what is it like behind the scenes—trying to plan and carry out training for Army brigades, special ops forces, USAF airlift and contingency response units, and international partners? And how does Green Flag Little Rock do it repeatedly, when a standard exercise trains hundreds of Air Force participants and thousands of Army soldiers?

MSgt Francesco G. Ventura, Superintendent of the 34th Combat Training Squadron at Little Rock AFB, answered those questions and more.

“Working with the Army—transporting them and their cargo and then carrying out the training they require—also gives us the combat training we need for when we have to do this in foreign countries, for example. We run Green Flag out of Little Rock, but we use Fort Polk, Louisiana, as the staging area.”

According to Ventura, these exercises involve much more than just moving cargo and personnel, and it takes considerable time to plan for that.

“A recent example was the 82nd Airborne, where we dropped the troopers into their play area,” he said. “We start coordinating 180 days out—getting information from the Army unit about how much airlift they’ll require. Even so, we transition quickly from one exercise to the next. Other Green Flag players have included the U.S. Marine Corps, British Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force. When we know we have a foreign military coming in, we plan even further in advance.”

People are sometimes surprised at how many foreign militaries participate, but Ventura said these partnerships are extremely important.

“When we deploy or when we are in another country,” he said, “it involves more than one service. It is very difficult to just show up at a location and integrate seamlessly, especially because of differences in regulations. Being able to practice in a training environment where we can learn about each other’s capabilities makes it much easier to transition when we get to an actual combat situation.”

In April, a Green Flag exercise was conducted with New Zealand. Training included troops from different countries jumping from a foreign aircraft with a foreign jumpmaster. They also rigged cargo for airdrops so that everyone could see how each country does it. As Ventura explained, everyone accomplishes the same goal using different methods. At the heart of the exercise is the opportunity to learn from one another. Safety is paramount, however.

“On each flight, we have an Observer Coach Trainer, which is a member from my squadron and usually an instructor,” said Ventura. “There are always two trainers on the plane—a pilot up front and a loadmaster in the back. Plus, everyone in my squadron watches to make sure regulations are followed—whether U.S. regulations or from another country. We go through things numerous times. If something doesn’t look right, we stop it immediately.”

All Green Flag exercises involve the same type of events (e.g., airdrops, cargo and/or personnel moves, etc.), but each one usually involves different players.

“Before an exercise, we ask a unit what they want to see and do,” he explained. “Maybe they do not handle much cargo, so they don’t want to do airdrops. We tailor it to fit what they want. One may have numerous heavy equipment loads—things like Humvees and different vehicles the Army uses that we typically don’t. We also did a mass airdrop of 400–500 people onto a play area. Again, that is something we don’t usually do. It was an integration of something like five C-17s and eight 130s that did it all in one night.”

In October this year, a group from Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia will “play” together in a much larger exercise than usual. MSgt Ventura said most exercises run about 10 days, while those involving the Army run one month. He added that the 34th Combat Training Squadron is uniquely qualified to plan them because of the many different career fields there.

“We are the only squadron that has combat recovery survival personnel. Plus, we have two Army ground liaison officers, as well as loadmasters, pilots, navigators, and combat control personnel. Our one squadron—with just 35 people—can build a typical exercise that serves about 12,000 Army personnel and 300 Air Force players from scratch to completion. Then, for the 10 days during the exercise, we run 24-hour ops.”

Most importantly, he said, his group does it without any damage and without anyone getting hurt. Then, as quickly as an exercise wraps up, they go straight into planning the next one.

“During 2018, we had an exercise in February, one in April, and one in July. We will finish the year with one in October and another in November. It’s rough, but we make it happen.” Indeed, Green Flag is an opportunity for U.S. and coalition forces to collaborate and integrate with several different career fields. The essential tactical-level training is vital, as is the experience of working with international partners.

As noted earlier, there is training—and then there is Green Flag Little Rock!