JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Seeing a C-17 in the sky over Charleston is nothing new, but as of Feb. 19, chances are people began to notice a different type of aircraft as well; a much smaller, sleeker and louder aircraft.
The 333rd Fighter Squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina began the process of landing 13 of their F-15E Strike Eagle's here at Joint Base Charleston in preparation for a weeklong exercise.
The 333 FS is part of the 4th Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB and has a very important mission.
"The wing's mission is two-fold," said Lt. Col. David Moeller, the 333 FS director of operations. "We have operational squadron's there that fly combat missions pretty much on a regular basis. Then you have two squadron's that provide formal training instruction to new students so they can be initial qualified in the F-15, and we are one of the squadrons that provide that initial qualification for the aircrew."
Much like the pilots who fly the C-17, F-15 pilots must undergo initial training in the aircraft. This week-long exercise is the culmination of eight months of training for the 22 pilots and weapon systems officers in the class.
"The training is really the capstone event of the syllabus for our students," Colonel Moeller said. "The training allows the new students to bring together everything they've learned in the past eight months into an environment that is representative of what they would see over in Afghanistan."
While deployed in Afghanistan, the F-15E's primary role is to provide close-air support for ground troops.
In addition to the 22 students, there are also instructors who are going through mission commander upgrade.
According to the F-15E fact sheet, the aircraft operates with two crew members, the pilot and a weapons systems officer. The aircraft has the capability to fight its way to a target over long ranges, destroy enemy ground positions and then fight its way out. The Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the aircraft the capability to fight at low altitudes, day or night, in all weather.
The 333 FS coordinates and executes this training exercise twice a year, and if things go well, the squadron would like to return to Charleston in the future.
"The infrastructure here is great, it's well tailored to what we need and the training air space is very nice," said Colonel Moeller. "As long as we don't generate too much noise, we would like to come back."
With endless possibilities for training locations, Charleston topped the list for two main reasons.
"The first [reason] is Charleston's proximity to the overwater training ranges that allow us to practice our air-to-air training as well as the proximity to the air-to-ground training ranges, which allow us to practice [dropping simulated bombs on simulated targets] similar to how the folks would be employing over in Afghanistan," said Colonel Moeller. "The second is the proximity to Seymour Johnson. In case something happens we have options available to fix the jet if we need to."
Lt. Col. Jefferson O'Donnell, the 333 FS commander says operating out of Joint Base Charleston provides a glimpse of the Air Force in a bigger picture.
"Although our focus is training F-15E pilots and weapons system operators for the combat Air Force, operating at Charleston AFB enhances people and mission across a greater spectrum: maintainers; aircrew flight equipment; petroleum, oils and lubricants flight; air traffic controllers; security forces and the Jacksonville F-15C unit with whom we're integrating, " said Colonel O'Donnell. "It stretches us and provides a glimpse of big Air Force that most of us don't see day-to-day."
While the 437th Airlift Wing and the 4th Fighter Wing have very different missions, the end goal is the common denominator; supporting the warfighter on the ground in Afghanistan.
"I'm personally grateful to the Joint Base Charleston leadership, Airmen and local community who hosted the 333 FS and trusted us to be good stewards of their time and resources," said Colonel O'Donnell.