MONTGOMERY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ala. – Four F-16 Fighting Falcons lifted off from the runway at Montgomery Air National Guard Base early in the afternoon as Airmen of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard, conducted flight training operations.
They are part of Southern Strike 2018, a joint large-scale multinational exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard at Gulfport"s Combat Readiness Training Center – Battlefield Airmen Center.
"Our objectives are trying to work with air dominance, close air support, aero-medevac, personnel recovery, and a bunch of other things," said Maj. Brandon Baughman, weapons officer and pilot of the unit.
The F-16 pilots and 187th Fighter Wing have their own mission as part of the exercise.
"They"re going to be providing close air support," said Baughman. "In the scenario, there"s going to be six to seven guys on the ground with a JTAC team, and they"re going to be coordinating strikes through those F-16s."
The F-16 is a valuable asset to the Air Force because it"s versatile and readily accessible.
"For the Air Force specifically, the F-16 is probably one of the aircraft we have the most number of, which gives us the capability to have them located in multiple places all over the world to do combat operations," said Baughman. "The F-16 is a multi-role, all-weather fighter and it was designed to be somewhat low-cost relative to other aircraft; and then still have the capabilities to do all kinds of missions like air-to-air and air-to-ground, which is mainly what Southern Strike is."
The exercise is important for the joint forces because it provides a cross-domain training environment that allows the branches to work together and prepare for the uncertainty of combat operations.
"One of the cool things about Southern Strike is we actually get to work with guys in training that we"ll be talking to down range," said Baughman. "When we start building that relationship with them, it"s more of a personal thing to know that I"m protecting an actual person on the ground, not just a voice on the radio. So, that"s one of the cool things about the integration between the Air Force, the Army, and the Marines during this exercise."
The 100th Fighter Squadron also has significant history, as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen units that flew in World War II.
"The 100th Fighter Squadron was one of the first African American fighter units that flew the P-51 Mustangs, so we wanted to honor that Tuskegee Airmen heritage and so, in 2007, they actually reactivated the 100th Fighter Squadron here and deactivated the 160th," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jared Rand, public affairs specialist of the wing.
Airmen of the squadron paint the tails of the squadron"s F-16s red to honor the history of the Tuskegee Airmen created in World War II.
In World War II, they would paint the tails different colors to identify who"s in your unit, who"s friendly and who"s enemy, and now we just do it to show our heritage and that we"re proud of our red tail legacy," said Rand.