Volk Field hosts regional Air Force combat training - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Volk Field hosts regional Air Force combat training

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The Air National Guard is in the middle of its Northern Lightning combat training at Volk Field.

It's an annual two week long exercise meant to prepare airmen for combat.

Over 700 airmen from Milwaukee, Madison, Duluth, Tulsa, Okla., Tucson, Ariz., Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb. are flying Wisconsin skies.

"This is about as realistic as you can get," Col. Dave Romuald, Volk Field Commander said.

"They could leave tomorrow and be ready to go," Col. Matt Maniford added. He is the commander of the International Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center in Tucson.

The strike mission simulation inside of would-be enemy territory has pilots thinking in real time.

"You gotta keep track of all the guys you are flying with. You gotta keep track of where all the bad guys are and you gotta keep track of where all the surface air missiles are as well," Col. Maniford said.

The so-called bad guys are what makes this exercise imperative

For the first time ever, 17 fighter pilots from Draken International were contracted to play the role of the enemy.

Prior to this exercise, The National Guard would have to impersonate aggressors.

With over 50 jets, Draken International operates the largest fleet of privately owned tactical aircraft in the world.

"We don't have to have a young pilot out there pretending to be an adversary. That young pilot now can focus on his or her training requirements to be more ready for combat," Lt. Col. Christopher Hansen, operations director at Volk Field said.

The Guard is saving money on maintenance, oil and fuel while their pilots are getting the purest form of training.

"What we have here is what I would consider a national treasure and to be able to get this training for all of these aircrew is something that is extremely unique to west central Wisconsin," Lt. Col. Hansen said.

"Fighter pilots always like to see a different type of airplane in the air. So if I'm an F-16 pilot and I come to the merge and I see a dark A-4 it really gets the scenario going in my blood because now it feels like I'm fighting the enemy," Col. Romuald said.

The A-4 jets brought in to play the enemy are flown by retired military pilots.

"For us to be able to give back and train the war fighters in such a cost effective manor, it really is a win win for both sides," Jerry Kerby, Draken International vice president for operations said.

The Northern Lightning training exercise began on the 8th of June and ends on Thursday.

Once the pilots complete this training, they are ready for combat and could be deployed as soon as a week later.

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