MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calf. --
The 173rd Fighter Wing out of Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, has been in the fighter training business for nearly 40 years and is the sole F-15C training base for the U.S. Air Force. For two weeks in August, Team Kingsley took that experience to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to act as Red Air for fledgling Marine Corps fighter pilots.
“It’s been great flying — nice over the ocean — and the base has been supportive of everything we need,” said Maj. Tom McGee, Miramar TDY project officer and F-15C instructor pilot.
The Oregon Eagles flew against two airframes — the F/A-18 Hornet from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 (VMFAT-101) and the F-35B Lightning II from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 502 (VMFAT-502). Both squadrons operate schoolhouses, similar to the 173 rd FW, training new fighter pilots known as B-coursers.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to train to the same type of idea, albeit a different weapons systems than us,” said McGee. “We’re all looking to give the B-coursers the same experiences so that when they leave here and they go on to their next squadron, they’ve had a level of experience that they are able to think outside the jet and adapt to different environments.”
McGee said they had integrated well with their Marine counterparts.
“Some things are exactly the same in working through a student’s first flights and trying to choreograph the training they need,” he said. “The biggest thing is, having been in the Navy myself, is that it kind of comes down to — sometimes we use the same words and it means the same thing … but then sometimes we use the same words and it can mean something completely different.”
McGee, who served in the Navy as an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot before joining the Oregon Air National Guard and becoming an Eagle Driver, referred to himself as the “translator” for the unit, having worked in both worlds. “We also have a couple of maintainers who have that Marine background, so they helped as well; it helped having someone speak the language.”
He emphasized this was a good challenge to build communication skills.
“The challenges of operating with someone you are not used to, whether it be maintenance or operations, is that it sometimes takes a lot more communication to make sure we get the same desired end result,” he said.
“The big thing for us, when we are deployed, nothing is going to happen stove-piped in our own little world, we are always going to be integrated together as different services, so this is a good introduction to remind people what it’s like to work with someone else.”
Off-station training is beneficial for the pilots, maintainers and support personnel.
“The TDY has gone great,” said McGee. “We have had a couple of maintenance challenges, but that’s helped a couple of shops flex their muscles and use their knowledge to kind of figure out how to fix the jets.”
Senior Master Sgt. James Dreyer, 173rd Miramar TDY maintenance chief, said off-station trainings develop and enhance the skills of the maintainers who keep the jets in
One of the ways this is accomplished is by bringing shops that typically do not work on the flight line every day, referred to as the back shops, and allowing them to assist the crew chiefs with launching the jet as a “b-man.”
“A ‘b-man’ is basically the alternate crew chief that is launching and recovering a jet,” said Dreyer. “They are assisting the primary crew chief with putting the chalks in the tires, putting the pins in, refueling … all that kind of stuff. They are really helpful for the primary crew chief.”
Dreyer says this is essential to creating a cohesive maintenance team. “Just the understanding of what else outside of their career field goes on — I think it is very helpful.”
He said being at a different unit, especially a different branch of service, is helpful. “We see how the Marines do their thing here, learn from them. We also get to fly with a different unit. … Jacksonville is here; we are working side by side with them.”
F-15s from the 125th Fighter Wing out of Jacksonville, Florida, are also training with the Marines.
Staff Sgt. Sergio Galvez-Ramirez of the non-destructive inspection shop shared how these off-station trainings foster important connections and relationships. “When I first arrived here I had no idea where the NDI lab was located … or even if there was an NDI lab. I wasn’t sure where I would be able to accomplish the testing I have to do every day.”
Galvez-Ramirez said he was able to talk to his counterpart from the 125th FW, who had already established a relationship with the local Marines and gained access to the machines they needed. “It is awesome to have that connection; I know someone in Florida now if I need something,” said Galvez-Ramirez.
This event also translates to stronger inner-unit connections. One of the ways this is done is by giving some personnel familiarization flights in the backseat of the F-15.
“It is so important for morale building … people love it,” Dreyer said.
Staff Sgt. Colton Oates of the 173rd FW engine shop called flying in the F-15 the “worst, best experience of my life.”
Oates says this experience gave him a better appreciation for what the fighter pilots do and “a better understanding of what our engines go though and what their capabilities are.”