Aircrew, maintainers test skills at Red Flag 17-3

Families await their loved ones returning from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, after participating in Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Airmen from Ellsworth spent nearly a month in the Nevada heat, maintaining B-1 bombers and supporting the aircrews that partook in the world’s largest combat exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Families await their loved ones returning from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, after participating in Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Airmen from Ellsworth spent nearly a month in the Nevada heat, maintaining B-1 bombers and supporting the aircrews that partook in the world’s largest combat exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Ellsworth Airmen return from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, after participating in Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Red Flag is the world’s largest combat exercise and incorporates ground, air, space and cyber space elements to prepare aircrews for future threats and environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Ellsworth Airmen return from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, after participating in Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Red Flag is the world’s largest combat exercise and incorporates ground, air, space and cyber space elements to prepare aircrews for future threats and environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Tech Sgt. Eric Clayborn, an aircraft fuels craftsman assigned to the 28th Maintenance Squadron, holds his three-year old son, Zion, after returning from Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Red Flag is a joint-exercise that occurs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and includes air-to-air and air-to-ground scenarios to provide aircrews with a realistic combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Tech Sgt. Eric Clayborn, an aircraft fuels craftsman assigned to the 28th Maintenance Squadron, holds his three-year old son, Zion, after returning from Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. Red Flag is a joint-exercise that occurs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and includes air-to-air and air-to-ground scenarios to provide aircrews with a realistic combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Ted Zielinski, an electronic warfare systems craftsman with the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, pets his dog, Buckley, while waiting for his luggage after returning from Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. The exercise provides aircrews an opportunity to train in realistic scenarios to increase combat readiness, capability and survivability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Staff Sgt. Ted Zielinski, an electronic warfare systems craftsman with the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, pets his dog, Buckley, while waiting for his luggage after returning from Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017. The exercise provides aircrews an opportunity to train in realistic scenarios to increase combat readiness, capability and survivability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Capt. Jim Henson, a B-1 bomber pilot assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron, holds his one year-old daughter, Charlotte, after returning from Red Flag 17-3. Red Flag is a joint-exercise that occurs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and includes air-to-air and air-to-ground scenarios to provide aircrews with a realistic combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

Capt. Jim Henson, a B-1 bomber pilot assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron, holds his one year-old daughter, Charlotte, after returning from Red Flag 17-3. Red Flag is a joint-exercise that occurs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and includes air-to-air and air-to-ground scenarios to provide aircrews with a realistic combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --

Aircrew and maintainers from Ellsworth returned from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, after participating in Red Flag 17-3, July 29, 2017.

Red Flag, a three week exercise, is realistic combat training in the Nevada Test and Training Range that incorporates ground, air, space and cyber forces to increase combat readiness.

Working side-by-side with several units and different aircraft platforms, Ellsworth Airmen were able to train like they fight.

“[Red Flag] lets us learn about each other on a level that we can’t really do separated,” said Capt. Caesar Cardenas, a B-1 bomber weapons system operator assigned to the 34th Bomb Squadron. “We can step into each other’s rooms and talk one-on-one and really get into the tactics of our own platforms.”

While the exercise focuses on interoperability between units that typically don’t work together, the 34th BS saw significant improvement within their own squadron.

“One thing we did really well as a whole deployed unit was working together to get the jets off of the ground,” Cardenas said. “We had a great maintenance rate and I think it was awesome.”

With aircraft conducting multiple sorties a day, weapons specialists played a major role in keeping the five B-1s at Nellis AFB mission-ready by maintaining sniper pods, refilling counter-measures and performing overall upkeep.

“It was a great experience,” said Airman 1st Class Justin McCracken, a weapons load crew member assigned to the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “If I can go again next year, I definitely would.”

As this iteration of Red Flag comes to an end, aircrew and maintainers share one thing in common: They’re glad to be home, but they’re ready for the next exercise.

“It’s great to be home, sleeping in your own bed and seeing your family,” Cardenas said. “Anytime we go to Nellis we always come back feeling better and more knowledgeable – I’m looking forward to next year.”