KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — One day, the Air National Guard’s F-15C pilots were providing air defense for the United States. The next, they were jetting off to Europe to help deter Russian aggression.
The Florida- and Oregon-based guard units touched down on the Continent earlier this week to take part in the U.S. military’s Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The unit will stay at the Netherland’s Leeuwarden Air Base for about a month, where it will conduct training with the Dutch air force, before moving on to Bulgaria.
While at Leeuwarden, the pilots will participate in the annual Frisian Flag exercise, with a range of aircraft from other European countries, including Finnish and Spanish F-18s, German Eurofighters, and Polish and Dutch F-16s, said Col. Gerbe Verhaaf, the base commander of Leeuwarden.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said of hosting the guard’s F-15s.
The eight-hour flight from Jacksonville International Airport in Florida to Leeuwarden was the easy part.
The real challenge kicked in long before the Tuesday departure, when the official orders came down in mid-February that F-15s and personnel from Florida and Oregon Air National Guard units would comprise the second theater security package to deploy to Europe for Atlantic Resolve.
For the 125th Fighter Wing at Florida, which represents the majority of the approximately 200 personnel in the package, it’s the unit’s first overseas deployment in about 15 years, said Lt. Col. Paul Reedy, the 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander.
“It’s been in the planning phases since the January time frame,” Reedy said in a phone interview Friday from Leeuwarden. “It wasn’t official until mid-February. For us, it was a pretty tight turn.”
The unit didn’t have to switch up its training, as it would before a combat deployment, since “this was a training deployment,” Reedy said.
But that didn’t mean the preparing, planning and packing was anything less.
“It was a very big exercise in logistics for our unit, working with (Air Mobility Command) and everybody else to get all of our equipment here,” Reedy said.
The unit needed to transport 10 C-17s worth of equipment, he said, mostly the tools and spare parts needed to maintain the jets and keep them flying for what’s expected to be a six-month deployment.
One unique aspect of deploying air national guard assets is that personnel will swap out about halfway through the deployment cycle. That way, the unit can maintain its currency for its 24-hour alert mission status in the States, Reedy said.
The equipment and planes, however, will remain for the duration, he said.
Guard assets got the nod for this deployment because they were in the best position to fill the need at the time, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric Vollmecke, the Air National Guard assistant for the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa. “The way it worked out, Jacksonville and Portland, the timing was good,” he said.
Also supplementing the package are personnel from the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, as well as active-duty airmen from USAFE.
About 40 percent of Reedy’s personnel are full-time guardsmen back in Jacksonville, he said.
But “a lot of our members left their civilian jobs temporarily to come over to support” this, he said.
“This was a voluntary activation,” he added. “Nobody was directed to come.”
Reedy said he had no trouble finding volunteers.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to come to Europe and operate in a different environment” and work with other nations throughout the region, he said.