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The Mirage

181st Intelligence Wing

A pilot from the 55th Fighter Squadron conducts their startup processes during an Indiana sunset at Hulman Field Air National Guard Base, Ind, on Aug, 19, 2021. The 55th Fighter Squadron participated in Jaded Thunder, a military exercise consisting of close air support training, live-fire events and aircraft familiarization and integration. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Joseph L. Pearison)

TERRE HAUTE, IN, UNITED STATES --

On a hot summer day in August, as I stared across from the Terre Haute Regional Airport ramp in the distance, I saw what appeared to be a mirage. Was there actually F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft on the ramp at Hulman Field? Hulman Field is the home of the 181st Intelligence Wing; the 181st IW used to be the 181st Fighter Wing but was re-missioned on March 3, 2008. The last F-16 training mission was on September 8, 2007. So, you could imagine my excitement to see aircraft on our ramp once again.

When we returned to the base, it had a familiar look, smell and buzz about it. The base was alive again! We had aircraft, support equipment, maintainers, and the smell of jet fuel! It was like stepping back into time -- almost like we never lost our aircraft nearly 14 years ago. This was a surreal feeling, something I have never felt before. Almost like a dream. If you closed your eyes and listened closely, you could hear the pilots of yesteryear like Petercheff, Wilson, Baer, Barchfeld, Hauser and Clark to name a few.

As I near close to the end of my military career, monuments like this are extra special. My son was only three years old when we were re-missioned, and my daughter was yet to be born. Both of my children share my passion for aviation, and it is remarkable to share this experience with them.

Even though I didn’t have an active role in the exercise, to be a part of the experience was worth the 14-year wait. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have covered Jaded Thunder from a Public Affairs standpoint and get to be around the maintainers and operators. Also, I was grateful to show my children the greatness of our little base and its impact on our community.

The units that participated in the Jaded Thunder exercise were great and very welcoming to the old maintainers. The 55th Fighter Squadron allowed us to photograph our former maintainers with their aircraft, which meant a lot to our old maintainers. As we lined everyone up for their photos, you couldn't help but overhear the stories and listen to how grateful they were to be on the flightline.

The community support that Jaded Thunder received was incredible. Countless people were hanging out around the airport for hours every day of the exercise like groupies at a concert wanting to show their support. It was fun to watch the pilots for the 336th Fighter Squadron give thumbs-up gestures to the crowd as they taxied for departure as crowd cheered them on. My family was there in the evenings to watch the aircraft take off and land. This community genuinely misses their aircraft. When I asked the exercise participants if they enjoyed visiting Terre Haute, they had nothing but great things to say about the Hoosier Hospitality they received from our community.

The State of Indiana was chosen for the exercise because of the state's facilities at Hulman Field Air National Guard Base, THRA, Jefferson Range, Range 36 at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.

The 181st IW and THRA combined have a 9,020 feet primary runway, 7200 feet alternate, crosswind runway, over 1 million square feet of ramp space, 1,465 acres of land and hundreds of thousands square feet of building space available for exercises like Jaded Thunder.

Jefferson Range is located on 1,033 acres in the northern third of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Ripley County, Indiana and is maintained by 181st IW personnel. The range features 14 Weapons Impact Scoring System-Mission scored targets, three air-scored targets, three strafe targets (DH-3 scored), two 20 mm and one 30 mm target, and one 2.75-inch rocket target.

Range 36 Air-to-Ground Gunnery is located about 20 nautical miles south-southeast of Indianapolis at Camp Atterbury. The Air National Guard-operated gunnery range is part of the U.S. Army-operated Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center. Associated special use airspace is R-3401, covering 103 square miles. The terrain is hilly and wooded, permitting a good mix of highly visible and terrain-integrated targets. In addition, several low-altitude routes are available.

Muscatatuck Urban Training Center offers users a globally unique, urban and rural, multi-domain operating environment recognized as the Department of Defense’s largest urban training facility. Muscatatuck is a real city with built physical infrastructure, dense urban terrain, a well-integrated cyber-physical environment, an electromagnetic effects system, and human elements. Muscatatuck’s urban terrain touches all five domains – land, airspace, cyberspace, maritime, and space – plus the electromagnetic spectrum and the information environment.

With all of the initial reports indicating that Jaded Thunder 21-2 was a successful exercise, we can only hope to have more opportunities in the future to host military exercises or missions. The local community – and old maintainers like me – would gladly welcome back the life that filled the flightline.

But for now, like every mirage in the hot summer heat, the illusion has faded. Still, the memories will last a lifetime.