EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- To most people Interior Alaska is known for its extreme temperatures, thick evergreen forests, and hunting and fishing seasons. But within the Department of Defense, Interior Alaska is also known as the home of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the largest U.S. military training range in the world and one of the main reasons both U.S. and international units complete an annual expedition to Alaska.
Spanning more than 67,000 square miles of airspace—roughly the size of Florida—the JPARC serves as the playing field for RED FLAG-Alaska exercises, during which Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are able to train virtually uninterrupted and unrestricted. With a training space that expansive, it’s hard to imagine most operations in the JPARC are managed by a small detachment of personnel operating out of Eielson AFB.
“We manage the entire range in Alaska,” said Christopher Dawkins, 354th Operations Group, Detachment 4 range engineer. “Our goal is to make sure units get the most out of their experience as possible. Part of allowing that to happen is making sure everyone is safe and accounted for whenever they are on the range.”
While the term JPARC refers to the massive airspace, the soil beneath it is a ground training range owned by the U.S. Army. Combining the air and land territories allows for some of the most comprehensive, realistic training scenarios in the world, most of which are facilitated by the detachment.
“We make sure that whoever is flying has what they require to be successful, whether they need to get on the schedule and de-conflict with other units, drop ordnance on the range or need threat emitters to fly against,” said Lt. Col. Russell Reese, 354th OG, Det. 4 commander.
According to Reese, the detachment also serves as the liaison between flying units and the Army to allow aircrews more time to focus on their training mission.
In addition to managing the physical aspects of the range and its systems, Det. 4 personnel have another critical role in the exercise: they provide the play-by-play after each scenario.
“From the emitters on the ground, remote sites and information gathered from aircraft we are able to paint a picture that we can then bring to operations allowing for better training,” Dawkins said.
Looking toward the future, among the top priorities for the detachment is the continued modernization of the JPARC. Seeing those plans through guarantees that Alaska will remain a one-of-a-kind resource in the DOD for the foreseeable future.