By David Irvin: Freedom Newspapers
The skies over eastern New Mexico are carrying more than the rumbling F-16s this month. Through a joint exercise called Roving Sands, several Navy E-2C Hawkeyes and numerous F-18s are also taking flight across the area.
The exercise is part of a much larger operation called Joint Red Flag in which planes from several branches of the U.S. military and the British air force test through a series of simulation exercises the skills of Army units operating the surface-to-air missiles.
“Really, what this whole exercise is about is the Patriot missile batteries … which are (at) Fort Bliss,” said Maj. Steve Brooks, 27th Fighter Wing Roving Sands project officer.
Located outside of El Paso, Texas, Fort Bliss is about 300 miles to the southwest of Clovis. In former years the operations was staged out of an old air base near Roswell, but because of what Brooks called “deterioration” to the facilities there, Cannon was asked to host the exercise this year.
Planes flying from Cannon are operating over eastern New Mexico and west Texas, participants said. Hollomon and Kirtland air bases in New Mexico are also hosting parts of the Joint Red Flag exercise.
A stocky plane with a giant radar disk (24 feet in diameter) on top, the E-2C is the largest plane the Navy can launch from an aircraft carrier, said Navy Cmdr. Ken C. Klothe. In fact, with a wing span of more than 80 feet, pilots can only miss the center line on a carrier by 2 feet either way, he said.
Among a cluster of knobs, wires, switches and hydraulic tubes in the E-2C is just enough room for three navy personnel to monitor communications and radar readings.
“Our aircrew are not specifically trained for one particularly job in the aircraft, they do multiple tasks,” Klothe said. “We’re the airborne radar available to the fighters.”
Brooks acts as liaison between the Air Force and the Navy to make sure the whole process runs smoothly.
“It runs the gamut, from how many vehicles we need, to how many hotel rooms, how are we going to feed everybody,” he said of the logistical considerations.
Many of the close to 300 visiting personnel are staying in town and have soaked up the local culture.
“We’ve been down to Kelly’s (Bar & Grill) quite a bit, Chili’s, and pretty much every morning (we go) to I-HOP,” Klothe said. He added that some of the Navy personnel have toured eastern New Mexico since they arrived.
“The people have been just super to us, real welcoming to us,” he said.
Because of differences between the two military branches, personnel from the Navy and Air Force could be heard exchanging barbs Monday on the flight line.
“We’ll take shots at each other when we’re on the ground, and we’ll give each other a hard time, but once everybody’s in the air it’s pretty much all business,” said Navy officer Lt. j.g. Steve “Scuba” Rogers, a Hamilton, Ohio native. “You’ve got work hard and play hard.”