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RF-A 21-2 takes off from Eielson AFB

A Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) Airman conducts a pre-flight inspection of an F-15J Eagle during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

A Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) Airman conducts a pre-flight inspection of an F-15J Eagle during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. RED FLAG-Alaska is a U.S. Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise designed to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment, with primary flight operations over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. RED FLAG-Alaska provides unique opportunities to integrate various forces into joint and multilateral training from simulated forward operating bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, waves during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, waves during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. RED FLAG-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise designed to provide realistic air combat training for U.S. and allied forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, taxis before taking off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, taxis before taking off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. RED FLAG-Alaska provides unique opportunities to integrate various forces in a realistic threat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. The exercise was held primarily over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). The strength of the JPARC is its expansive co-located air and land ranges as well as its significant potential for co-located air and sea ranges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Multiple F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron prepare to launch during RED FLAG-Alaska on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

Multiple F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron prepare to launch during RED FLAG-Alaska on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. This exercise provides unique opportunities to integrate various forces in joint and multilateral training from simulated forward operating bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

A Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15J Eagle takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021.

A Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15J Eagle takes off during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 14, 2021. RED FLAG-Alaska serves as an ideal platform for international engagement and the exercise has a long history of integrating allies and partners, ultimately enabling all involved to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures while improving interoperability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

The first aircraft operating in support of RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 took to the skies from the Eielson flightline early this morning.

RF-A 21-2 marks the first full-fledged exercise since 2019 following the global COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Department of Defense’s subsequent travel restrictions.

“COVID-19 has been a factor for this exercise, but it’s not keeping us from training and making it a quality exercise,” said Capt. Christopher Ellsworth, 353rd Combat Training Squadron executive officer and RF-A 21-2 assistant team chief. “We’ve been working really hard here at CTS to ensure that.”

RF-A 21-2 is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise designed to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment. A series of command-directed field training exercises will provide joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training.

Approximately 1,500 service members are expected to fly, maintain and support more than 100 aircraft from more than 20 units during this iteration of the exercise. Joint and allied forces including personnel assigned to various units at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and the Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) are participating.

“Our primary focus is to work on that joint integration, which is how we actually fight,” explained Ellsworth. “We have flying units as well as ground forces and we’re integrating as much as we can with our mission planning, our execution, and mission debriefing.”

RF-A 21-2, like all RED FLAG exercises held in Alaska, is taking place in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, an expansive military operations area comprised of over 77,000 square miles of special-use airspace, ranges, and military operations facilities.

The exercise is scheduled to continue until June 25. All participants in RF-A 21-2 are operating under strict COVID-19 mitigation protocols, remaining ready and postured to support the U.S. commitment to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region despite the COVID-19 pandemic.