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No sooner did Tyndall’s F-22 Raptors return from a successful mission in Europe, they took off again for an exercise in the Mardi Gras City.

Over the past two weeks, 220 Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Base airmen participated in exercise Southern Strike at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Belle Chasse, La., just outside of New Orleans. The mock deployment gave F-22 pilots the chance to fly with F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-18 Hornets, T-38 Talons, F-35 Lightning II’s and B-1 Lancer’s from bases around the country.

“At Tyndall Air Force Base we train the future of air dominance,” said Col. Joseph Kunkel, 325th Fighter Wing vice commander. “What Southern Strike is allowing us to do is bring our students into a realistic environment where they can train with fourth and fifth generation platforms in a high threat scenario.”

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An AH-1W SuperCobra from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 Detachment A prepares to land as crew chiefs ready a Tyndall F-22 Raptor for take-off Oct. 27, 2015, during Exercise Southern Strike at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Belle Chasse, La. (Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson/Special to The Pulse)

The purpose of Southern Strike is to have multiple fighter aircraft from bases in the southeast fly together and against each other in air-to-air combat. The training allows students in Tyndall’s F-22 basic training course to get their air-combat training against fighters they don’t normally fly with.

The first week of the exercise focused on small-scale local flying with F-22’s, T-38’s and F-15’s from NAS JRB. The second week brought many more fighters from other bases, like Eglin AFB, Fla., to make up two teams, one red and the other blue. Those teams then competed against each other in the southeastern skies.

Tyndall’s F-22 student pilots can’t always get the realistic training they need flying around the Florida panhandle alongside their T-38 counterpart. They must take advantage of exercises outside of Florida to obtain the training requirements they need for their F-22 Basic Course at Tyndall.

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Captain Julio Gomez, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron medical doctor, is ready for his flight on a T-38 Talon Oct. 27, during Exercise Southern Strike at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Belle Chasse, La. (Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson/Special to The Pulse)

“The experience is huge,” said 1st Lt. Gregory Hermack, 2nd Fighter Training Squadron pilot.” Back at home, they fly against T-38’s, which is 1960’s technology. So when you start adding in fighter aircraft like F-15’s and F-16’s that are shooting real radar, you can better simulate the weapons of real-life enemies and give the Raptor pilots more genuine real-world scenarios.”

From deployments to Europe to exercises around the country, the F-22’s remain in the sky ready for whatever the country asks of it.

“As we continue to train and project unrivaled combat air power, exercises like this are the key in making sure we’re ready to go at a moment’s notice,” said Kunkel.

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