07/23/07 — 335th gets chance to practice in Alaskan sky

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335th gets chance to practice in Alaskan sky

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 23, 2007 1:45 PM

From the back seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle, Lt. Ryan Bone took a minute to soak it all in.

"We were flying along and the air space out here is just so vast, it seems like you can see further out here," he said. "I look out the right side of the jet and it's like you can touch it -- Mount McKinley."

Being a member of the 4th Fighter Wing's 335th Fighter Squadron has another perk this month -- Red Flag-Alaska.

An exercise that enables units to sharpen their combat skills by flying 10 simulated combat sorties in a realistic threat environment, Red Flag allows airmen and other service members to come together and exchange tactics, techniques and procedures.

Chiefs Capt. Kevin Pritz called flying in Alaska's mountain ranges "great preparation" for the squadron's upcoming deployment to Southwest Asia.

"I think with our deployment having to deal with weather and terrain that we are not familiar with, it's exactly what the crew needs," he said. "You just can't beat it. It's wonderful training."

This being the captain's second Red Flag, he said he understands how important it is to remain focused on the mission at hand.

But Pritz admits he savors each glance he gets at the land below.

"I was flying and we're over these incredible mountain ranges in Alaska," he said. "My (weapons system officer) said, 'Hey, there's a moose.' I thought that was just amazing."

The sights are "the best in the world," he added, but the pilot understands that in the end the mission means more.

So does Bone.

"It was kind of eye-opening, all the moving parts that have to come together to make it work," he said about his first sortie. "I've never seen anything like it in my life. After one, you feel like you've just been eight rounds with Mike Tyson."

Staff Sgt. Melissa Steele, an aviation resource manager with the Chiefs agreed -- the experience has been a bit overwhelming, she said.

But the opportunity to meet pilots and crews from across the world and take that experience overseas in the coming months has made the past few weeks well worth battling 23 hours of sunlight and being away from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"I definitely feel like it's great training out here," she said. "We're getting to see the big picture."

And for top military officials, the big picture is bringing troops home safely during the "real thing."

In fact, Red Flag was founded in part because of the "unacceptable performance" of Air Force pilots in air-to-air combat over Vietnam.

Members of the squadron are scheduled to return at the end of the month.

Pritz is sure the weeks spent in Alaska will be "exactly what we are going to need when we go down-range in the future."

But don't be surprised if you get a phone call or e-mail from a few Seymour airmen who just can't hold back their excitement -- or their stories about fishing and breathing in the fresh mountain air.

Some already have.

"Trust me, I've already called home and bragged about being up here," Bone said.

"It's incredible," Pritz added. "It's absolutely incredible."