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343rd Bomb Squadron participates in unique Red Flag exercise

photo of b-52 flying

A B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 20th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, flies through the sky during Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Aug. 5, 2021. The B-52 is a long-range bomber capable of dropping or launching a vast array of weapons in the U.S. inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dylan Murakami)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --

Members of the 343rd Bomb Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit, integrated with the 20th Bomb Squadron, an active-duty unit, to participate in Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, earlier this month.

Red Flag exercises typically bring together several coalition forces and U.S. service branches. They train in a simulated combat environment with threat replicating aircraft. However, this Red Flag was unique in that it involved only U.S. personnel.

According to an article posted on the Nellis AFB official homepage, the change allowed participants to operate and employ tactics at an advanced classification level.

Lt. Col. Jesse Hildebrand, 343rd B.S. commander, relished the chance for his Airmen to train with their active-duty counterparts in the challenging Red Flag environment.

"Red Flag is on the leading edge of integration and employment at the highest level," said Hildebrand. "Barksdale is a total force team, and it's vital we get to train alongside our active-duty partners every chance we can."

Maj. Mark Shiffrin, a weapons systems officer instructor assigned to the 343rd B.S., is a veteran of three Red Flag exercises. However, he said this one had a different feel for him, as he assumed the role of mentor and teacher.

He relayed how a pilot on his crew was tasked with acting as a strike package commander for the first time during the exercise.

"He said, 'I'll be fine because there is a weapons systems instructor on my crew,'" said Shiffrin. "So, it was good to be able to provide some experience in such a task-saturated environment."

Capt. Autumn Gilson, 343rd B.S. weapons systems officer, took part in Red Flag for the first time. The pace of planning and in-air training allowed her to gain experience in a simulated, contested environment.

"It's very realistic and was extremely valuable training," said Gilson. "When I go back and have to assume a leadership role, I'll definitely feel prepared."

Units from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air National Guard took part in Red Flag 21-3.