By Matt Benedetti
BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, WESTFIELD, Mass. — Airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing took part in Exercise Cope Taufan 2014, a biennial large force exercise between the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and the United States Air Force from June 9-20, 2014.
The objective of Exercise Cope Taufan is to enhance the combined readiness and interoperability of the Malaysian and U.S Air Forces while promoting peace and stability in the region. The deployment also demonstrates a U.S. capability to project forces strategically in a combined, joint environment.
The tactical and cultural exchange provided 104th pilots the opportunity to engage with F-22 Raptors of the Hawaii Air National Guard and MIG 29 Fulcrums of the Royal Malaysian Air Force in a realistic live-fly training environment.
The Southeast Asian exercise marked the farthest distance the 104th FW has deployed the F-15 Eagle and support personnel, as well as the first training exercise outside the continental United States (OCONUS). The austere conditions at the air base, RMAF Butterworth, and oppressive heat, reaching 100% humidity at times, presented a myriad of challenges for the Massachusetts Guardsmen.
The expedition proved a rigorous test of the unit’s operational and logistical capabilities.
Col. Alex Haldopoulos, 104th Operations Group Commander, found the deployment to be a vital training opportunity for pilots and maintenance personnel.
“Cope Taufan was a great tactics sharpener and relationship builder,” said Haldopoulos, a native of Peachtree, Georgia and resident of Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
“It is important for our unit to deploy OCONUS and practice our tactics, techniques and procedures in order to continue to perform the defensive and offensive counter air missions that we focus on. At Cope Taufan we were able to practice these tactics with the F-22 Raptors and against the Mig 29 Fulcrums,” said Haldopoulos. “As well, we were able to work closely with our partners in the Hawaiian Air National Guard in the Pacific Command area of responsibility. It was a great experience,” he said.
Haldopoulos grew to appreciate the distance between the U.S and the Malaysian peninsula.
“From a logistics perspective, we learned some valuable lessons. Ensuring that we bring the equipment most commensurate with the need and conceptualizing the distance required to ship items was important,” said Haldopoulos. “As our military pivots to Asia, we need to recognize the investment in infrastructure required to reflect that commitment.”
Flying against aircraft of the former Soviet platform was a huge benefit to the pilots.
“Most of our guys had never flown against a MIG,” he said. “Prior to deploying, we spoke extensively about engaging these aircraft; so flying against them in a basic fighter maneuver environment was an invaluable training experience.”
“I have flown for a long time, but have to admit it that flying against the Mig 29 was an exhilarating experience,” he added.
During these simulated engagements, the 104th pilots consistently outmaneuvered their adversaries and demonstrated a level of expertise that left little doubt as to the victor.
“Our pilots represented the USAF well and our maintenance folks went above and beyond. They did a fantastic job-working late and doing extra tasks to allow us to perform at the highest level,” he said.
Chief Master Sgt. Richard Tudisco, the 104th Maintenance Squadron Superintendent and non-commissioned officer in charge, was pleased with the ability of unit members to surmount difficulties and offer practical solutions to problems.
“The airlift was a challenge and keeping track of everything wasn’t easy, but we did extremely well,” said Tudisco, a native of Derby, Connecticut.
“The temperature was ‘Gurkha hot’ and we needed to watch rest cycles, hydration, and any heat related issues. No one can recall experiencing climate and conditions similar to Malaysia. It was a challenging work environment but we accomplished the mission. I am proud of our people,” he said.
Haldopoulos lauded the efforts of the 104th Airmen involved in Cope Taufan 2014.
“We have some very capable leaders and experts in their respective fields,” said Haldopoulos. “Our folks are well trained, experienced and pretty damn smart. Cope Taufan 2014 was a huge success due the hard work and trademark professionalism of 10th Fighter Wing personnel.”
Unit leaders expect to deploy to similar exercises in the future.