Camp Douglas hosts annual air combat training

Northern Lightning is an intense pilot training exercise

President Barack Obama said U.S. troops will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but military personnel know things can change at a moment’s notice so they are training regularly.

For the past two weeks, military personnel have been taking part in an intensive training exercise called Northern Lightning. Fighter, bomber and transport aircrews take part in a mock war scenario with a mission to fly into enemy airspace, bomb the targets and get home.

The exercise director says they make it as realistic as possible so the pilots have the best tools to accomplish their mission and return home safely.

The F-16 Fighter planes, which are the ones in the blue, are the first ones to engage in combat

“F-16s are going to push out in front of the bombers and negate any threat from the adversary aircraft,” said Maj. Keith Krejchik, an operations officer at Volk Field.

Once the F-16s take out the red enemy planes, they will provide cover for the bombers.

“Their part of the mission on this is to release some precision guided bombs to attack surface threats replicating surface terror missiles,” said Krejchik.

After that, mission accomplished. However, in reality nothing goes as planned.

“You can see the large aircraft, our bombers have actually turned around and gone away,” said Krejchik. “Something happened in this scenario that the adversaries were throwing at them to throw them off script.”

Now at a moment’s notice, the pilots are forced to change their plans and react to the new situation in real time.

Making pilots think on their feet and react to real-life situations is the main purpose of this intense training session called Northern Lightning

“As exercise directors, we try to present scenarios that are realistic,” said Krejchik.

“I guess the idea is to basically do all of your training when you are not actually at war, so when you do go to the war, it’s second nature for you and your able to complete your mission,” said Maj. Nick Schultz, the exercise director at Volk Field.

And what better teacher than experienced fighter pilots themselves.

“Most recently I flew a combat deployment in Afghanistan in 2012,” said Krejchik.

“I have had three deployments,” said Schultz. “What having gone and deployed has done for me, is helped me be able to tailor the exercise the best I can for fellow pilots in the military.”

Their combined experience overseas is what makes the difference here on the home front.

“The job here is to give them the best training we can,” said Schultz.

“We are going to make it hard, but when you finish up with it you are going to be that much better and that much more confident,” said Krejchik.

Schultz spent more than a year planning and setting up this exercise and when you have something of this scale, it’s going to be noisy. Although the training is necessary, they do try to keep the noise at a minimum as much as possible.

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Camp Douglas is one of four Air National Guard bases that is able to host this caliber of training and it happens every year.