TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.- Roughly 200 142nd Wing Guardsmen and a fleet of 123rd Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagles flew from Oregon to Florida in May to participate in a two-week exercise known as WSEP (Weapons System Evaluation Program)/Checkered Flag 22-2.
WSEP and Checkered Flag represent two distinctly separate schools: one focused on the weapons systems, and the other focused on dissimilar aircraft training.
The goal of WSEP was to test weapons systems, from loading to firing, and evaluate pilots’ abilities to employ weapons. WSEP involved testing the skill sets of pilots and maintenance troops on the ground.
Checkered Flag is a recurring exercise where pilots from bases across the country play out training scenarios in one of the largest air-to-air exercises featuring fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.
The Checkered Flag aspect of the training exposes pilots to other airframes and capabilities in blue versus red scenarios. Pilots apply strategic thinking to defend their forces from the enemy or penetrate their opponent’s defenses. Pilots learn to understand better how to integrate U.S. aerial forces in real-world operations.
“We have a handful of brand new CGOs who never participated in an exercise this size, and so for them in particular, I think that they got experiences that we just cannot generate at home station,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Hovanas, detachment commander in charge of all 142nd Wing members at the exercise. “In terms of our readiness, this was a phenomenal opportunity to kind of get the squadron ready to deploy this fall.”
Capt. Alan Greene, 123rd Fighter Squadron F-15 pilot, said he experienced a lot of firsts during the exercise May 9-20.
“I really enjoyed being able to fight against other fighter jets like the F-22, which I’ve never done before; shot a missile, which I’ve never done before; a lot of fighter integration with fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft,” Greene said. “I feel like it’s only [trainings] like this that you’re able to do this.”
What happened on the ground during the exercise was equally important. Along with the pilots, dedicated aircraft maintainers were part of the team to fly out to Tyndall.
“We brought down eight jets, and once we got those eight jets down there, they flew very well and we were able to execute almost all of our sorties, and that’s mainly because the maintenance personnel worked so hard,” said Hovanas. “I think they got to see what winning feels like. We won every day we got jets in the air.”
These types of exercises help ensure the unit is ready for the arrival of the F-15 EX Eagle II. Though the new aircraft will inevitably bring challenges, Hovanas says the unit’s ready.
“I really believe that we’re set up well to accelerate right into the F-15 EX,” said Hovanas. “I think we’re going to be the best unit to fly that airplane when it finally arrives.”