Among the many aspects of Red Flag that fascinate me, is the excitement of the unexpected events that might unfold for me when I least expect it.
For instance I know that sometime during my stay in the Nevada desert I'll catch a few good photos of aerial jet combat action, at either high or low altitude levels. I'll miss a lot, but I will get a few good ones. It is my way of going fishing, except that it is in the sky and not in the water. What I don't expect is those fortuitous serendipitous events that will stay in your memory for the rest of your life, like being only minutes from the deadly crash of a F-15, or being alone in the desert at night in my pickup in Railroad Valley and being mistaken for either a target or landing zone by two Black Hawk helicopters that landed next to me and disembarked a squad of soldiers, all looking at each other wondering what the hell is going on, or being invited by some Brits to go with them to their night time drop zone as C-130s flew low overhead targeting the drop zone for their drop.
Over the past several years the complexion of Red Flag has changed as the exigencies of warfare have forced military planners to rethink long worn strategies as the very nature of war has mutated. Complexities and synchronizations of our armed forces have induced changes in battle management never foreseen 10-15 years ago. This brings me to the event of Red Flag 3-5-2009.
I had been camped in Alamo to catch the last half of this weeks RF before moving on to go boondocking again next week in Tempiute Valley. A local friend had told me that the Army had a Patriot Missile camp set up near Delamar Valley, maybe 20 miles away. I thought that this would be different so I headed to Delamar Valley. As I approached the general area I saw some sort of installation off in the distance just a couple of miles off the main road. I found the turn off and proceeded to the missile site. I stopped about a quarter of a mile before the site wondering what my next move would be. Long distant telephoto pictures are only just so good, so I thought the heck with it and I slowly drove up to the installation and stopped my truck. It only took a few seconds for a soldier to come over to me. He was in full battle dress carrying an automatic rifle. I didn't know if it was loaded or not. Before he could say a word I asked him if I could get permission to take some photos of the installation. He was very pleasant in responding that he didn't know but would get his commanding officer. He left me sitting there in my pickup, but soon came back with another soldier who happened to be the Commander of this particular missile battalion. I asked the Commander that I am here taking photos for Red Flag and Dreamlandresort.com. I think I caught him off guard with the Dreamland bit, but he asked me to come with him. He also asked me for my ID or pass which I thought he might have been thinking press pass, but all I had was my driver's license. He said that he had no objection but he would have to pass the request up the line. He took me into the Command Tent and told me to wait. He went behind a partition and I could hear him mentioning Dreamland. I looked around and could see various maps on the wall partitions, but other than that it was pretty Spartan inside. The radio equipment may have been behind the wall. In a few minutes he came back and we went outside and within a few minutes he said it was OK to take any exterior photos I wanted, but I would be escorted all the time...by him. So now I have the Battalion Commander escorting me around the installation while I took photographs. Obviously there was nothing top secret here.
The Commander was a very cordial, polite, knowledgeable officer, who I came to learn was very proud of his unit; it's operation, and especially the men under his command.
He told me that they had arrived a few weeks ago with the desert valley floor covered in about six inches of snow. The snow soon melted leaving the ground wet and soggy for a few days before it all dried out, but basically they are prepared to bivouac in just about any weather or terrain.
He said that I had arrived at the opportune time, as they were in the process of packing up the installation and would be gone in a day or two, back to Ft. Bragg, N.C...
As you can see from my photos, we walked all around the perimeter of the installation. He said the radar was still hot, and we had to avoid walking in front of it for obvious reasons. The four sets of dish like antennas were analog antennas pointed at their sister installation about 20 miles to the N/W of this one. Up until that moment I had not known that there was a second installation.
He related to me that apparently sometime in the past there had been a few accidents of deadly (My word) friendly fire where plane(s) had been shot down and missile site(s) taken out causing hard feelings amongst the various services involved. It was obviously felt there had to be more cooperation and coordination with air and ground units. Hence his deployment to the RF exercises.
He said that his unit has both offensive and defensive capability depending on the mission and engagement going on at the time. He can coordinate with AWACS or operate completely independently. He proudly said that he could knock any type of aircraft out of the sky. So I asked him how fast the rockets could travel and he replied that unclassified they leave the launcher at over Mach 3...like WOW I thought!
As he spoke he was spitting out the acronyms like a machine gun and I commented on it. He stumbled over a few of them stating that he knows what they all mean, just that he never had to explain them before. He said that it was interesting to find that when his troops went for orientation with the Air Force, that they too had there own medley of alphabet soup for doing the exact same operation as he was. Like every branch of the military his it own variation of acronymic language.
He felt that he and his men had learned valuable information in how each of them operate and can and will work in more harmonious fashion (My words).
When we walked toward the launchers the Commander said that they were inert and that they had no live ordinance in the tubes.
As I looked around I noticed that every soldier I could see was dressed in full battle dress, at least from this civilian's point of view.
Near the end of my tour we were already talking about the philosophical implications of war and a soldiers mandate to serve his country and follow orders for the security of the United States.
He has been in the Army for 13 years, with one deployment to Iraq and in a few months heading back to another deployment in the Middle East.
Before I left I shook his hand, and thanked him and his men for the service they are doing protecting our country and we civilians. We shook hands and I asked him if he wanted me to mention his name or show his photograph and he replied no, that it was not about him, but all about his unit.
In summation I can openly and honestly say that this young Commander, Capt C., is what I would call a real class act, and from what I could see of his men, and how proudly he spoke of them, if the rest of our military are anywhere like he and his men, then we are surely in safe hands.
To the Men and Women serving in 1-7 ADA Battalion, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina,
God bless all of you and keep you safe from harms way.
Click here for more photos of this trip report