MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
The Draughon Range is to Team Misawa as Mount Hakkoda is to avid skiers; this expansive plot of land provides the ultimate training ground to an array of service members working to improve their skills in Northern Japan.
The 35th Operations Group Draughon Range personnel work daily with U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons and Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2 Mitsubishis, and frequently host other military services and airframes, facilitating training exercises that provide targets and a place to fire munitions.
“We aid everything from F-16s to U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s to JASDF F-2s--it’s a joint, bilateral-use range,” said Joe Conley, the Draughon Range lead manager. “When an outside agency comes in, we sit with them and ask, ‘What is it you want to do, and how can we help support your training?’”
Even during exercises like Northern Viper 17, which took place on Hokkaido, the range personnel worked together to accommodate more than 500 U.S. Marines who needed an area to practice everything from external lifting of cargo with aircraft to taking their weapons out for a shot at success in unfamiliar missions.
“I’m excited to get some rounds out,” said USMC Cpl. Garrett Mills, a 6173 crew chief with the Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron-462. “It’s good getting more realistic training for proficiency purposes. The more practice we put into our career, the better gunners we become, making us more effective crew chiefs.”
The management of the area can be time consuming; personnel average 65 hours per week ensuring the range is in prime condition, giving the best experience for all service members using the location.
“We’re jacks of all trades,” said Earnie Schatz, a Draughon Range electronic warfare field engineer. “Sometimes we’re fixing communication problems or we’re out there cutting down heaps of grass for vegetation control. We have to be super flexible to be able to accommodate personnel to carry out their missions and be ready to win any fight.”
Range personnel are constantly assisting pilots with their training, ensuring Team Misawa increases its lethality, strengthens partnerships, and ultimately gets the practice it needs to be able to secure the U.S. and its alliances if called upon.
“There’s no other place in Japan our pilots can train and drop bombs like this,” said Conley.
Conley said newer pilots are eager to use the range, so if they travel elsewhere to train with allies or the call to war ever arises, they've rehearsed using their weapons as much as possible.
"Draughon Range is vital to our training at Misawa," said Maj. Jason Markzon, a 13th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and F-16 pilot. "It's the only range in Northern Japan that allows our fighter pilots to maintain a combat readiness status in weapons employment."
The area is also used for training scenarios such as survival, evasion, resistance and escape, explosive ordnance disposal and cargo drops, improving U.S. and JASDF service members’ mission capabilities while demonstrating joint and bilateral power.
“The range enables us to perform realistic practical training, by allowing for larger explosive limits and giving us exposure to live unexploded ordnances instead of inert training aids,” said Airman 1st Class Caleb Willard, a 35th CES EOD technician. “It also provides us with the capability to exercise contingency operations; such as high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle training, land navigation, subsurface UXO detecting and other technical skills.”
The range employees even help with targeting practice by talking directly to pilots and relaying information about the bullet precision for rounds shot off, and rearrange training areas for EOD technicians.
“Our targets have sensors measuring the speed and distance for pilots,” Conley said. “We also set up the unmanned threat emitters, which is an essential piece to the range.”
The UTME is a threat emitter system that simulates enemy attacks for aircraft, giving a more realistic quality of training for the pilots.
"As PACAF's premier suppression of enemy air defenses fighter wing, the usage of UMTEs give Wild Weasel fighter pilots live emitter training so we can train to real world threats and maintain a readiness posture to be able to respond to any contingency worldwide,” Markzon said.
Range workers are happy to be a part of the efforts in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, showcasing Misawa’s ‘fight tonight’ posture.
“It's an air show every day,” Conley said. “Working at the range is a fun and unique job. Our ability to run Draughon Range affords several units an opportunity to hone their skills and be prepared to handle anything that comes their way in our theater.”