News: Cherry Point Prowler Marines depart for aerial combat exercise in Alaska
Story by Cpl. Tyler J. Bolken
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – A detachment of more than 220 Marines and six EA-6B Prowlers departed the humid skies of eastern North Carolina Sept. 27, heading north for the colder, thinner air of Alaska for a few weeks of aerial combat training at Eielson Air Force Base.
The Marines, from Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadrons 1 and 4, are participating in RED FLAG-Alaska 13-1, a series of field training exercises for U.S. and coalition forces to provide joint offensive and counter-air interdiction, close-air support and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment.
The training is taking place throughout an area of more than 67,000 square miles throughout Alaska and western Canada through Oct 19. As many as 70 aircraft will operate in the airspace simultaneously during the peak of the training. Eielson AFB hosts multiple iterations of the exercise throughout the year and regularly involves armed services from countries around the world.
“The level of complexity is intense,” said EA-6B Prowler pilot Capt. Byron Drader, a native of Bellingham, Wash. “There are so many more players. Dog fights are going on, bombs are being dropped and we’re also executing our mission.”
The Prowlers' mission includes suppressing enemy radar and surface-to-air missiles, utilizing electronic jamming and high-speed anti-radiation missiles and collecting tactical electronic intelligence. During the exercise, the Marines plan to fly five to six missions a day.
“This gives us an opportunity to actually practice our real-world missions in a joint environment with foreign partners,” said Drader. “For a new aircrew, it’s a great opportunity to be exposed to this to see what it’s going to be like before we actually do it.”
The exercise will be high tempo, said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Straub, the maintenance control supervisor for VMAQ-1. A native of Merrillville, Ind., Straub’s maintenance expertise on the Prowler goes back more than 12 years.
During the compressed training window the Marines will experience in Alaska, they’ll be able to accomplish far more than they’d be able to in the same time at Cherry Point, Straub added.
The demand will definitely be there, said Drader. “We’ll be flying as much as we can.”
The training in Alaska is being conducted with an eye toward a future deployment to Afghanistan and allows the squadron to train over a variety of terrain and elevations.
“Afghanistan is mountainous and desert. We’re excited to take advantage of this training,” said Drader. “It’s not something we’re able to do a lot.”