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Tactical advantage: The RED FLAG-Alaska veteran

U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher “Tuco” Harrison, the 80th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and chief of standards and evaluation, poses for a photo on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 18, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher “Tuco” Harrison, the 80th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and chief of standards and evaluation, poses for a photo on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 18, 2021. Tuco has flown for both Red and Blue air in over 15 RED FLAG iterations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

“If you asked me six years ago, [if I knew that] I would have been an Aggressor and go from Blue to Red to Blue, I’d have said ‘no,’” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher “Tuco” Harrison. “But I’m glad I’ve had that experience. It’s been good.” 

‘Tuco,’ the 80th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and chief of standards and evaluation, has inevitably become a RED FLAG-Alaska veteran after having flown for both Blue and Red air in over 15 RF iterations.

Following his dream to become a pilot in the Air Force, Harrison commissioned out of Tuskegee University Reserve Officers' Training Corps detachment on May 8, 2011, the day before his graduation.

“When I was six [years old] I went to my first airshow and saw the Thunderbirds and I thought I wanted to fly that thing right there,” he said. “And I knew I had to join the Air Force to do that.”

Harrison still vividly recalls his very first RF-A experience when he was stationed at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida in spring of 2015.

“When I was a lieutenant flying as Blue air, I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I just stayed within my flight lead’s visual and made sure I didn’t get shot… I just wanted to be safe out there.”

The challenge of responding to Red air’s unpredictable tactics makes flying for Blue air thrilling for Harrison.

“If something changes drastically with the game plan, I’d have to adjust my game plan on the fly to deal with that problem,” he said. “It’s an ever-changing battle so it’s kind of cool to deal with that.”

It was in July of 2017 when Harrison’s  assignment to the 18th Aggressor Squadron took him from the 35th Fighter Squadron in the Republic of Korea all the way to Alaska, where he spent the next few years flying for Red air until the summer of 2020.

While flying as a captain for Red air, Harrison found the overall concept of replicating adversarial tactics to test Blue air’s game plan very interesting.

“Learning different tactics other threat nations may try to use against us and actually trying to test Blue air’s game plan against some of those threats out there; that part was interesting,” he said.

When his time was up as an Aggressor, he found his way back to Korea when he was assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron. He believed he had fulfilled his purpose as an ‘Aggressor’ as he then moved on to fill in the role of instructor for the 80th FS ‘Juvats’. 

“I love instructing... It’s kind of a win-win [situation] for the base and for me going back [to South Korea] and instructing,” he said. “Just making a difference to a young flight lead and teaching them how to fly.” 

RED FLAG-Alaska 21-2 marks Harrison’s fourth time flying for Blue air. But this time around, he’s bringing invaluable expertise and vast experience having flown for both Red and Blue air in several RF iterations.

“Having prior experience [as Red air] helps me as Blue air because I can essentially advise whoever the mission commander for that vul is,” he said. “The intel might say this… but what’s really going to happen is this...”

His familiarity with the Aggressor’s tactics has taught him that despite limited capabilities, it is Red air’s mission to pose continuous problems for Blue Air. This helps bring perspective and situational awareness on the mission commander’s planning and its execution.

It has been ten months since Harrison left the Aggressors and he’s glad to see some of his old friends now that he’s back for RF-A. One of whom is Capt. David “Solo” Blessman, 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16 Air Battle Manager, who had nothing but nice words to say about Harrison.

“Working with Tuco again feels great,” said Blessman. “We watch each other’s backs, being professional Airmen, even if we’re not in the same area of responsibility or base.”

Not every pilot gets the chance to fly for both Red and Blue air. Harrison feels very grateful to experience both ends of the RF-A spectrum.

“Having flown for both sides makes me feel very capable as a fighter pilot,” said Harrison. “Being able to make sure my game plan is solid and to account for any sort of variables helps me impact the big Air Force mission because I can bring a unique perspective to the fight.”