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Profile: Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis Air Force Base was a participant or observer in the following events:

Thomas Bergeson.Thomas Bergeson. [Source: Samuel Rogers / United States Air Force]Fighter jets and personnel from the 71st Fighter Squadron, which is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, are away in Nevada at the time of the 9/11 attacks, participating in the “Red Flag” training exercise, and only return to base about a week later. (Sizemore 9/24/2001; 1st Fighter Association 2003; Doscher 9/15/2006) Langley AFB is located 130 miles south of the Pentagon, and fighters from there are launched on 9/11 to protect Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Weisman 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27) The “host unit” at the base is the 1st Fighter Wing, which includes the 71st Fighter Squadron and two other fighter squadrons: the 27th FS and the 94th FS. (Langley Air Force Base 11/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org) 2/12/2006) The 71st FS includes about 25 pilots. Its members are participating in Red Flag in preparation for an expected deployment to Iraq this coming December. (Skiba 10/19/2001) Col. Thomas Bergeson, the commander of the 71st FS, will later recall, “We had most of our F-15s at Nellis” Air Force Base in Nevada, for the exercise. (Doscher 9/15/2006)
Red Flag - Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise, held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, involving the air forces of the US and its allies. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 10/19/2002; Arkin 2005, pp. 476) Various aircraft are involved, and more than 100 pilots are participating in the current exercise. (Boyne 11/2000; Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/22/2001) The exercise began on August 11 and ends on September 7. (Wessels 7/28/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/22/2001) But the 71st FS pilots only fly their F-15s back to Langley AFB around September 17. (Sizemore 9/24/2001)
The 71st Fighter Squadron - The mission of the 71st Fighter Squadron is “to maintain a combat-ready force able to conduct air-superiority operations anywhere in the world for the United States and its allies.” (Langley Air Force Base 1/2005) Although Langley Air Force Base, where it is stationed, is one of the two “alert sites” upon which NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can call to get jets quickly launched, NEADS’s alert fighters at the base do not belong to the 71st FS or either of the other two fighter squadrons of the 1st Fighter Wing. Instead, the two alert jets are part of a small detachment from Fargo, North Dakota’s 119th Fighter Wing, which is located on the opposite side of the runway to the central facilities of Langley AFB. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Spencer 2008, pp. 114) However, some F-15s belonging to the 71st FS are launched from Langley AFB on 9/11, following the attacks, to patrol the skies of the East Coast. Some of the 71st FS jets that are deployed to Nevada are the first fighters to get airborne to patrol Las Vegas and southern California in response to the attacks. (Langley Air Force Base 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association 3/14/2006)
Other Units Away on 9/11 - The 94th Fighter Squadron, which is also based at Langley AFB, is away on September 11 as well, for a 90-day combat deployment to Saudi Arabia to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq (see September 2001). (BBC 12/29/1998; 1st Fighter Association 2003) Around this same time, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) also participate in Red Flag, and only return to their base three days before 9/11 (see Late August-September 8, 2001). (Vogel 4/8/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 156)

An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006.An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006. [Source: US Department of Defense]In late August and early September 2001, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) participate in the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada. They do not return from it until September 8. (Vogel 4/8/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 156)
Red Flag - Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise that involves the air forces of the US and its allies. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 10/19/2002) It is managed by the Air Warfare Center through the 414th Combat Training Squadron. Most of the aircraft and personnel that are deployed for Red Flag are part of the exercise’s “Blue Forces,” which use various tactics to attack targets that are defended by an enemy “Red Force,” which electronically simulates anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jamming equipment. A variety of aircraft are involved in the exercise. (Boyne 11/2000) Red Flag is held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. It is usually composed of two or three two-week periods. (Arkin 2005, pp. 476) The current exercise began on August 11, and involves more than 100 pilots in total. (Wessels 7/28/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/22/2001)
Exercise May Hinder Defense of Washington on 9/11 - The timing of the Red Flag exercise may reduce the ability of the DCANG to respond to the 9/11 attacks. The 121st Fighter Squadron is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, which is located 10 miles southeast of Washington, DC. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) Most of its pilots are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, while flying commercial jet planes in their civilian lives. (Vogel 4/8/2002) Therefore, according to author Lynn Spencer, on 9/11 most of the 121st Fighter Squadron’s pilots will be “back at their airline jobs, having just returned three days before from two weeks of the large-scale training exercise ‘Red Flag’ at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. [The squadron has] only seven pilots available.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 156) In addition, some of the pilots will need to have their flight data disks reprogrammed before they can launch. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will reportedly be “busy reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 236-237) A significant number of fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia also participate in Red Flag around this time (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). (Sizemore 9/24/2001; Doscher 9/15/2006)


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