The 4th Fighter Wing from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, is the lead unit for exercise ‘Red Flag 18-1’, which is running from January 29 until February 16 at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
Col Christopher ‘Forrest’ Sage is the current commander of the 4th Fighter Wing. Sage presides over four squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagles at ‘Seymour’ — more than half of the USAF’s total Strike Eagle force, with an impressive four active-duty squadrons here — two training units and two operational squadrons. ‘It’s about preparing our two operational squadrons to go down range — the 336th [FS] is deploying as we speak — as well as being the schoolhouse for all F-15E crews,’ he adds.
One of the last bastions of the Phantom II in the active-duty force, the 4th TFW began switching out its F-4Es in favor of brand new F-15Es in 1988. The first Strike Eagles with ‘SJ’ tailcodes arrived here in December of that year and the 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron ‘Rocketeers’ became the first operational F-15E squadron as the wing led the way as the initial Strike Eagle wing. It was something of a baptism of fire, when the wing was tasked to deploy two squadrons into combat before it had even reached full capacity. Seymour Johnson’s new F-15Es were amongst the first units to head eastbound in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.
The ‘Rocketeers’ immediately dispatched 12 F-15Es from Seymour Johnson to Thumrait, Oman, before they moved forward to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. By January 16, 1991, the 335th TFS ‘Chiefs’ were established alongside them at PSAB and were poised for action.
Fast-forward three years to 1994 and the Seymour Johnson wing was expanding. The F-15E Formal Training Unit (FTU) moved in from Luke AFB, Arizona, and rebadged as the 333rd Fighter Squadron ‘Lancers’. It was a continued period of change for the wing. Following the departure of its resident KC-10A tankers; the 4th Wing became the 4th Fighter Wing on December 1, 1995. To accommodate a requirement to train increasing numbers of F-15E aircrews, the 334th FS ‘Fighting Eagles’ completed the quartet of fighter squadrons here on January 1, 1996.
Having flown the Strike Eagle since 1996, Col Sage has seen the aircraft mature considerably. He recounts his first combat action in the F-15E during Operation ‘Allied Force’ in 1999 while he was attached to RAF Lakenheath’s 492nd FS. ‘We spent a lot of time on that deployment taking out radars and support equipment that was part of the integrated air defense system that was trying to shoot down our F-117s. I also deployed for Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ in 2004 and 2006 where we flew some amazing sorties — strafing high value targets at night at very low level. One of my most memorable missions on that deployment was when my WSO [Weapons Systems Officer] and I were sent to help an army unit that was pinned down in downtown Baghdad with a broken vehicle. The guys on the ground were taking sniper fire and for two hours we flew low altitude passes over the center of Baghdad. We were popping flares and we could literally see them bouncing down the street!’
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