EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska –
The skies have roared with the sounds of familiar aircraft during RED FLAG-Alaska, Eielson's premier combat training exercise.
However, a lesser known group of planes with a large impact is the Civil Air Patrol, the Air Force's civilian auxiliary unit which simulates threats during training exercises such as RF-A.
Members from the Fairbanks CAP 9th Composite Operations Squadron and Eielson's 71st Composite Squadron have been attending briefings and working with fighter pilots to assist them with training by simulating low-flying threats during sorties.
"You get a visual picture of what these guys actually do," said Jim Gibertoni, 9th COS member. "Until I flew in RED FLAG, I never realized what the supersonic world consisted of until I got up in the air. It becomes a whole different world."
With the exception of a neutral plane that should not be hit during a flight, the goal of each CAP plane is to make it to a target area without being detected and shot down while participating units try to stop them from reaching the target area.
"This isn't a game up here. The objective is to provide these pilots with a realistic situation to find and shoot down targets," said Gibertoni. "The power and might that are in the hands of fighter pilots is phenomenal. Shows can't grasp exactly what these pilots can do."
At least two CAP members are in the cockpit to fly, navigate and log activity while flying, but a device known as a puck will record when the plane is struck, providing participating pilots with information on their kill-shot accuracy.
"I like being involved with RED FLAG, it's something pretty unique to Alaska," said Caleb Conley, 9th COS member. "I don't have military background so to get a glimpse of what the military can do and realize it's not at all like how Hollywood portrays; it is amazing."
Icemen also have the opportunity to fly as a CAP member, learning a different perspective of how training with CAP is ran.
"CAP provides a unique capability by simulating the 'low and slow flyer.' They are able to replicate civilian and light utility aircraft much better than military airframes," said Maj. Robert Lindblom, 353rd Combat Training Squadron RF-A 14-2 team chief and 71st CS member. "Plus, they reinforce the need for visual identification on unknown aircraft, which prevents civilian and blue on blue casualties."
Aside from RF-A, CAP provides search and rescue and a host of other civil defense services like disaster relief and damage assessment.
Under a cadet program, CAP is open to anyone 12-21 years old while senior members must be at least 18 years old.
"I encourage others to join CAP because it's a fun way to serve your country without much of the stress we experience on active duty," said Lindblom. "Plus, when you're working with younger children in the squadron, you have the chance to shape future leaders."
For more information or to join Eielson's 71st CS, contact Col. John Cartwright, 354th Maintenance Group commander and 71st CS operations officer.