SAVANNAH, Ga. – The 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Fighter Generation Squadron from the 388th Fighter Wing recently deployed six F-35 Lightning IIs and approximately 100 airmen from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in support of Agile Flag 23-1.
The exercise, designed to test and certify Air Combat Command’s lead wings, took place over approximately nine days at various locations in the southeast region of the United States.
The 366th Fighter Wing, from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, was the lead wing for this iteration of Agile Flag. The Hill AFB squadrons provided F-35 airpower, multi-capable airmen maintainers and operations personnel to support that mission.
The exercise’s scenarios force wings to operate from multiple locations in a contested environment using agile combat employment.
“We’ve done other ACE exercises and operations with the F-35, but this is the first time for us with a different lead wing and under field conditions,” said Lt Col. Gregory Ferrell, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “In exercise terms, those have been more of a crawl and this was straight into a jog or a run.”
For Agile Flag, several DOD and civilian airfields across the region were in play as potential contingency locations, and each day’s flying plans change based on the scenario.
“When you’re operating across organizations with so many contingencies, it’s all about communication and planning – from the cargo-aircraft crews, to the MCA teams and wing leadership,” Farrell said. “We learned a lot here to continue to build our plan for what ACE looks like with the F-35. It’s continuing to evolve.”
Agile Flag differs from other “flag level” exercises. It puts Airmen in a more starkly-simulated combat environment under field conditions. Full “battle rattle” is worn most of the time because the base comes under attack by opposition forces. Days are long. Tents and shared dorms are home. Vacuum sealed MREs provide the daily nutrients.
“A lot of our younger Airmen and pilots maybe have never done this in their careers,” Farrell said. “It’s good to see them work through it together and grow together.”
For Senior Airman Colin Hartman, an F-35 crew chief from Peru, Ill., Agile Flag was his first-ever TDY. But he doesn’t mind that it’s lacking in sight-seeing, he’s into the mission.
“It’s a big exercise, there’s always a lot going on and I’m learning a ton.” Hartman said. “Being flexible seems like it’s the key to everything. We’re all 100 percent focused on what we’re doing, and we have to stick together. It’s a cool environment.”