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A crew chief from the 186th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, nicknamed the Rocky Mountain Coalition, guides an F-16 into place at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The squadron is drawn from Air National Guard units from Montana, Colorado and New Mexico and is deployed to Kunsan for a summer of training with Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing.

A crew chief from the 186th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, nicknamed the Rocky Mountain Coalition, guides an F-16 into place at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The squadron is drawn from Air National Guard units from Montana, Colorado and New Mexico and is deployed to Kunsan for a summer of training with Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing. (Matt Schwartz / U.S. Air Force)

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Nearly 300 hundred Rocky Mountain region Air National Guard members have begun a summer deployment at Kunsan Air Base, where they’ll be immersed in the day-to-day rigors of a base known for its tough training tempo and austere conditions.

For the deployment, the Guardsmen and about a dozen F-16 fighter jets have been formed into a unit called the 186th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, but informally they call themselves the Rocky Mountain Coalition.

They’re drawn from three Guard units: Montana’s 120th Fighter Wing, Colorado’s 140th Fighter Wing and New Mexico’s 150th Fighter Wing.

The idea for the deployment to Kunsan arose because the runway at Great Falls International Airport in Montana, where the state’s Air National Guard is based, was to close for five months starting in May for a major upgrade. Guard officials, looking for a way to continue training during the closure, volunteered for the deployment.

“They’re teachers, they’re policemen, they’re lawyers, they’re college students,” said Lt. Col. Mark Scharf, the 186th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron’s commander. “And those folks don’t do this day-in and day-out. So this is a tremendous opportunity for them not only to train but to train with a unit that is doing it all the time.”

Kunsan is home to the 8th Fighter Wing, known also as the Wolf Pack.

“I need pilots that can fly effectively, and lethally, at any base in the world,” he said, adding that working with the Wolf Pack will give many Guard pilots “a breadth” of additional experience.

“So, for us it’s a real honor to come to work with the unit that has that mind-set — there’s no fiddling around,” said Scharf, who in the States is commander of the 186th Fighter Squadron, part of Montana’s 120th Fighter Wing.

The Rocky Mountain airmen will train as they do at home, he said.

“We expect to conduct both air-to-air and air-to-ground training, emphasizing the different location, the different climate, and working with an active-duty wing,” he said.

Support crews on the ground also will have an opportunity to work with an active-duty wing, “which you don’t get to do all the time, but also in many cases with a foreign country’s … rules,” Scharf said.

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