HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The 354th Fighter Squadron from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; 9th Air Support Operations Squadron from Fort Hood, Texas; 3rd ASOS, 7th ASOS, and 16th ASOS from Fort Bliss, Texas; 311th FS and 29th Attack Squadron from Holloman AFB, recently trained together in Exercise Zia Sun, at Centennial Range, New Mexico, Sept. 28 – Oct. 9.
Exercise Zia Sun is a routine joint training exercise that brings together Tactical Air Control Parties and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers with a variety of aircraft. For this iteration, participating aircraft included the F-16 Viper, MQ-9 Reaper, A-10 Thunderbolt, and AC-130 Gunship.
“It allows those who are doing training to learn in a more dynamic and exciting setting because they also get to learn from those who have already deployed,” said Staff Sgt. Leadan Zapata, 7th ASOC JTAC instructor from Fort Bliss, Texas.
The exercise is hosted annually and provides aircrew students from the 29th and 9th Attack Squadrons an opportunity to train in realistic scenarios.
“Zia Sun is a yearly opportunity for squadrons to come and not only train to what we expect to see downrange, but to have instructors who have experience downrange that can teach things that worked for them, so we can continue to be the best Air Force,” said Zapata.
In addition to JTAC personnel obtaining better training, Holloman’s MQ-9 Reaper training pilots and sensor operators are benefiting as well.
“It was actually good for the students to have this scenario, especially with the new syllabus which is trying to enhance the capabilities of MQ-9 aviators,” said Maj. Allesio Battistella, 29th ATKS instructor sensor operator. “In particular, at the end of the syllabus, we have capstone events that simulate having many different players involved and that is exactly what Zia Sun prepares them for.”
Involving real-time air support means that students gain more experience before deploying and ground forces understand the limitations they may not see in their simulated exercises.
“We get to apply the real-world air refueling times with the tanker support,” said Zapata. “During Zia Sun it provides us an extra layer of realism that benefits not just us as TACP but also the pilots and controllers and everyone else involved.”
This sentiment was shared by Battistella as well, they added that the earlier we can start realistic training the better.
“In the Air Force, we say, ‘train as you fight, fight as you train.’ So the more realistic we can make our scenarios starting in the schoolhouse, the better the outcome we will have in the field,” said Battistella.
Connecting the joint force in routine training exercises is critical to U.S. Air Force readiness and preparing Airmen for current and future challenges.