PINEWOOD - The 77th Fighter "Gambler" Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base hosted Range Day at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range near Pinewood on Friday, inviting family, friends and the public to the facility for a morning of air-to-ground and air-to-air combat simulations.
About 400 people of all ages, including a Boy Scout troop from Spartanburg and a Trail Life USA Troop from Calvary Chapel Northeast in Columbia, attended the event, watching from an elevated berm as three F-16 Fighting Falcons engaged ground targets scattered across the large, open area surrounded by Manchester State Forest near Poinsett State Park.
The mound provides a good view of the grounds beyond the yellow rope, scattered with dummy tanks, radar installations and shipping containers that serve as targets.
The jets made a 4- to 5-mile circle, according to Capt. Scott Neidrick, the organizer of the event, circling over the tower and targets numerous times, one of them firing live rounds at a pair of distant targets, the other two in electronic simulation mode. Two of the jets then simulated an intercept of a hostile aircraft. The squadron also demonstrated SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) skills that pilots are taught in the event that they find themselves on the ground in hostile territory.
"It's something that we'd like to do on a more consistent basis, as much as we can, to get people involved around the base as well as our community and families," Neidrick said. "Just to show them what we do and how they impact our job and contribute to what we do.
"We have maintenance officers out here today and maintenance enlisted crew chiefs, and they're the people that are out working on the jets to get them ready to fly. Without their help, we wouldn't be able to fly," he said. "We have medical support group out here that help us out by making sure that we're physically fit to fly, so they're able to see how they contribute. The mission support group did a fantastic job of getting all the buses out here. Basically everybody including the (physician's assistant) is able to contribute."
Neidrick said some of them were seeing the "end result" for the first time, adding that he had never seen it from the ground.
"I've shot these rockets and dropped bombs and shot the gun, but I had never actually been on the ground here and seen us shoot the rockets," he said. "I'm happy to have so many people from all over the base out here to observe this because it's a great way to bring our base together and show what we do and to draw everybody to see how they impact us and contribute to our finally being overhead."
Neidrick said having the Scout troop at Range Day let them see some of the career options they may be interested in and broaden their scope. They were able to see an F-16 up close during an earlier event on base.
"We took the kids around and showed them the different aspects of the jet and what our mission is," Neidrick said. "We talked about what our base does, and we answered all the questions that they had. They got to sit in the cockpit and see all the switches, a really good experience to let the kids see what we do."
The Poinsett Electronic Combat Range covers some 12,500 acres, more than three times the size of the main base, but is mostly forest and wetlands used by the 20th Civil Engineering Squadron for environmental studies. Only about 400 acres is "impact area."
Poinsett Range is open to the public for viewing military aircraft expel their munitions and train. For more information, call (803) 895-2597.