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A pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, signals to a ground crew member after landing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 5. A total of 10 F-35B Lightning IIs and 250 Marines with VMFA-211 participated in Red Flag 17-3, a realistic combat training exercise hosted by the U.S. Air Force, to assess the squadron’s ability to deploy and support contingency operations using the F-35B. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)

Photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens

Combat ready: VMFA-211 prepares mission commanders

28 Jul 2017 | Sgt. Lillian Stephens 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, trained to qualify as mission commanders during exercise Red Flag 17-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 10 to 28.

Mission commanders are responsible for planning, executing and supervising large-scale air missions — often utilizing different packages, which are aircraft, equipment or personnel dedicated to completing a particular mission objective, such as offensive counterair, suppression of enemy air defense or close air support.

According to Maj. Chris Brandt, a pilot and administration and logistics officer in charge with VMFA-211, Red Flag is the best large-force exercise the United States has to offer — making it an ideal environment to train and become qualified as a mission commander.

“You can have up to 50-plus aircraft on the blue side and then almost an equal amount on the red side. A mission commander is in charge of those blue forces,” said Maj. Brett Abbamonte, quality assurance officer with VMFA-211. “From the very start, [he’s in charge] of generating a plan, going into the planning process, running the planning process with all these different assets, coordinating with all his package commanders … and the tactical plan to succeed and win the mission.”

The Avengers, along with more than 50 units and 80 aircraft will conduct missions at the Nevada Test and Training Range, which has more than 12,000 square miles of air space, 2.9 million acres of land and has more than 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force.

“Training at large-force exercises at home [is] great practice to give that mission commander experience so that when the day comes that we go to combat and execute a large mission, we have qualified mission commanders that can come up with a good plan, brief, lead and execute and then also debrief us,” said Abbamonte.

VMFA-211’s pilots had to qualify as section leads, division leads and, in most cases, Weapons and Tactics Instructors (WTI) prior to this training exercise. Each trainee will have an instructor pilot at their side throughout the evaluation process, said Abbamonte.

“I’m going through a mission commander upgrade so that’s going to take a lot of my time and focus. A lot of times at home station, we’re basically working just with each other,” said Brandt. “It’s not until exercises like these that you get to train across services and with platforms that you typically would not work with at your home station.”

Red Flag 17-3 will include the U.S.’s air, ground, space and cyber forces from each branch of service — forces that mission commanders will coordinate with for planning, execution and post-mission debrief.

“Having more mission commanders will make us more combat effective,”
said Abbamonte. “I can’t really think of a better place then Red Flag or WTI, where you have this many assets coming together … or a more real-life scenario.”

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