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Operations group adopts 353rd CTS

F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 64th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., line the flightline at Eielson AFB, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 18, 2006, for Red Flag - Alaska.  The exercise, formerly known as Cope Thunder, provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close-air support and large-force employment training in a simulated combat environment. Red Flag - Alaska runs through May 5. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Justin Weaver)

F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 64th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., line the flightline at Eielson AFB, Alaska, for Red Flag - Alaska. The exercise, formerly known as Cope Thunder, provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close-air support and large-force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Justin Weaver)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The 353rd Combat Training Squadron is set to become another fully integrated Iceman Team unit by returning to the 354th Operations Group this month is aimed primarily at improving the Red Flag Alaska exercise.

"The 353rd CTS started in the 354th Fighter Wing; it's a consolidation of the squadron back under the wing it was originally with," said Lt. Col. Eddie Osteen, 353rd CTS commander.

The 353rd CTS previously fell under the 611th Air Operations Group at Elmendorf, and reported directly to 11th Air Force.

The 353rd CTS is responsible for the free world's largest training airspace, the Pacific-Alaska Range Complex, and for orchestration of joint and combined large force exercises in Alaska. The 354th OG currently provides combat-ready forces and aircraft capable of conducting sustained contingency flying operations in support of all wing objectives.

"The merger will provide some efficiencies by combining intelligence, life support and range and airspace scheduling units on base," said Col. Chip Thompson, 354th OG deputy commander.

Next week, a PACAF Site Activation Task Force will be coming here to look at how to improve the Red Flag exercise and help plan the transformation late next year of the 18th Fighter Squadron into the 18th Aggressor Squadron, he said. These steps will help Red Flag-Alaska achieve its goal of becoming a world-class exercise on par with the original Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB in Nevada.

"The Air Force Chief of Staff said he wants Red Flag-Alaska and Red Flag-Nellis to be essentially equivalent exercises, which led to the transition back to the 354th wing," Colonel Osteen said. "We will now be located on the same base as our chain of command, it will make communication easier and more direct."

According to Colonel Thompson, the PACAF team arriving next week will help prioritize millions of dollars in Red Flag Alaska construction to improve and expand the size of the exercise. Icemen that waited in long lines at the dining facility during last summer's Red Flag exercises will be glad to hear that funds are proposed to hire additional cooks and increase the size of the dining facility. 

With the departure of the A-10s by next summer and the changing of the 18th Fighter Squadron into an Aggressor Squadron, the primary focus of the 354th Fighter Wing one year from now will be to support the Red Flag Alaska exercise, Col. Thompson added. The decisions made by 354th FW representatives from manpower, CE, services, maintenance, operations and other base agencies with the PACAF team next week will have a tremendous impact on improving Eielson and Red Flag Alaska over the next two years.