142nd Wing Guardsmen hone skills in WSEP/Checkered Flag 22-2

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Steph Sawyer
  • 142nd Wing / Public Affairs

Earlier this month, roughly 200 142nd Wing Guardsmen, along with a fleet of 123rd Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagles flew to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. 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 is focused on the weapons systems, and the other is focused on dissimilar aircraft training.

The goal of WSEP is to test weapons systems, from loading to firing, and to evaluate pilots’ abilities to employ weapons. WSEP involves testing the skillsets of not only pilots, but the maintenance troops on the ground.

Checkered Flag is a recurring training exercise wherein pilots from different bases across the country, operating a variety of airframes, play out various training scenarios in one of the largest air-to-air exercises featuring fourth and fifth generation aircraft.

The Checkered Flag aspect of this training is beneficial because it exposes pilots to other airframes and capabilities. The training involves blue air vs red air scenarios, with blue air representing allied forces and red air representing adversarial forces. The varying scenarios give pilots the opportunity to apply strategic thinking to either defend their forces from the enemy or to penetrate their opponent’s defenses during these operations. The training also prepares pilots to better understand how to integrate U.S. aerial forces in real world operations.

For some new CGOs (Company Grade Officers), this training presented never-before-seen experiences and learning opportunities.

Lt. Col. Joshua Hovanas, Detachment Commander in charge of all 142nd Wing members on location for this exercise, described the importance and impact of exercises like this one to the real world mission of the 142nd Wing.

“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 Hovanas. “In terms of our readiness, this was a phenomenal opportunity to kind of get the squadron ready to deploy this fall.”

123rd Fighter Squadron F-15 pilot, Capt. Alan Greene, a newer member of the unit, shared his thoughts on his experience at this year’s exercise.

“There’s been a lot of firsts for me here,” Greene said. “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. I feel like it's only [trainings] like this, that you're able to do this. It gives you opportunity to broaden your experience and say ‘I did that’.”

While we tend to think most often of what’s going on in the air when it comes to these exercises, what happens on the ground is 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.”

Exercises like this one are a great opportunity for Guardsmen to work together to ensure mission success. Group cohesion, hard work, and strong leadership made the team’s success possible.

“I really believe that we were able to accomplish [the mission] based off of the leadership here at the base and the work ethic of the individual Guardsmen that we have here and I think it speaks volumes to our teamwork, our dedication, and our capability,” said Hovanas.

Looking down the road toward the imminent arrival of the Wing’s new airframe, these types of exercises aid in ensuring that the unit is ready for the arrival of the F-15 EX Eagle II. Though the new aircraft will inevitably bring with it challenges, that’s something that Lt. Col. Hovanas says the unit’s ready to take on.

“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.”