By by 2nd Lt. Emily Chilson, Red Flag Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2009
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- For the first time in Red Flag history, two brothers are running the show.
America knows many family duos: Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, father and son; Eli and Peyton Manning, sibling quarterbacks in the NFL; Venus and Serena Williams, sisters and international tennis stars. How do two members of the same family achieve such extraordinary accomplishments when the odds are against them?
Meet the Anderson brothers. Air Force officers, F-16 pilots and commanders of Red Flag 09-4, the world's largest, most comprehensive and highly realistic combat training exercise.
Although the Anderson brothers serve at different units and bases, they were given the unique opportunity to take command of the Air Expeditionary Wing at the Red Flag 09-4 exercise in Las Vegas.
Colonel Dean "Norm" Anderson is the 20th Fighter Wing vice commander at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., while his younger brother, Lt. Col. Ross "Rosco" Anderson, is the 482nd Fighter Wing Operations Group commander and full-time reservist at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Homestead, Fla., south of Miami.
"It's a huge honor, and a very big deal to me to be able to do this with my brother in a leadership position," said Colonel Ross Anderson. "Flying side by side in a squadron is one thing, but commanding is a huge honor."
Colonel Dean Anderson is serving as the Red Flag Air Expeditionary Wing commander, and Colonel Ross Anderson is serving as the Red Flag AEW OG commander.
Red Flag exercises are nothing new to these brothers.
"I've lost track," Colonel Dean Anderson said. "I think I'm over 15 Flag-level exercises - Red Flag, Green Flag, Cope Thunder and Red Flag-Alaska. We have both reaped the benefits of Red Flag during our careers, making us more combat ready, and it is a privilege to come back and lead the team during Red Flag 09-4."
For Colonel Ross Anderson, this is his third Red Flag, and fifth flag exercise overall.
"I would say the skills you learn at a flag exercise are perishable. It helps for quite a while, but it's great to come back and get a refresher. There's always something new, it's a fluid environment."
Both brothers hail from Portland, Ore., and began their Air Force careers in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oregon State University. Colonel Dean Anderson graduated and commissioned in 1987, and Colonel Ross Anderson was right behind him in 1989.
None of their brothers or sisters are in the military, but their father served in the Navy during World War II and was a glider instructor at his primary job. He was a significant contributing factor to their passion for flying. Their mother has been supportive from the get-go, but like any parent, has her concerns.
"She's very proud to have two sons in the Air Force," Colonel Ross Anderson said. "She has motherly instincts and she's anxious when her sons go off to do their job. But she understands."
As the brothers told stories about flying with their dad, even now they learned the different experiences and memories that helped inspire the other to become a pilot.
For Colonel Dean Anderson, as a 13-year-old, it was meeting one of the men who designed the F-15 that hooked him on flying. But for Colonel Ross Anderson, who passed his civilian flight rating on his own, he just decided he wanted to go a little faster.
"Mom said we never had the chance to do anything but fly, growing up watching our dad and flying with him," Colonel Ross Anderson said. "He used to take us up in a Piper Cub, a little airplane, and in a glider at a very young age. The military wasn't the portion that got us. It was his flying passion."
This may be their first command experience as a team, but they worked together on occasion during their Air Force careers.
"When I was the 18th Fighter Squadron commander at Eielson AFB, Alaska, I invited Rosco to fly with my squadron during several events, including our Operational Readiness Exercises and Cope Thunder (now Red Flag - Alaska)," Colonel Dean Anderson said. "Rosco also traveled to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to participate in Austere Challenge 2008, a large United States European Command exercise. I was in the 603rd Air and Space Operations Center and he came over to augment the unit during the exercise."
Despite the fact that the brothers are both F-16 pilots, in their 20-plus years of service they haven't been deployed or stationed together. However, while Colonel Ross Anderson was the 302nd Fighter Squadron director of operations at Luke AFB, Ariz., the brothers flew together when Colonel Dean Anderson was there for his requalification program.
And here at Red Flag 09-4, they flew together again. When a pilot scheduled to command a mission was unable to lead the mission, Colonel Dean Anderson gladly volunteered to take his place. And his brother flew alongside him, providing Air Interdiction, a type of air-to-ground attack.
Although personality and leadership style is unique to each commander, and can sometimes clash with fellow commanders, for the Anderson brothers, there's not a problem.
"We complement each other very well," Colonel Dean Anderson said. "As a commander, it is awesome to have somebody that you trust completely as part of your leadership team. For Red Flag, it's even more important."
"During Red Flag you have to hit the ground running; you don't have time to build trust, you have to assume that people are competent to perform their mission," he said. "While I've always had a 'trust but verify' mentality to my leadership style, I don't have to go through the verify stage with my brother. I know things are going to be done superbly."
As the AEW commander, Colonel Dean Anderson is in charge of all the personnel and squadrons that are here. He determines the training objectives for Red Flag 09-4, and works with the Red Flag core staff to make sure those training objectives are met.
Red Flag 09-4 consists of nine U.S. and allied units from Idaho, Illinois, Israel, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington and the United Kingdom. Participating aircraft include the A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F/A-18 Hornets and KC-135 Stratotankers. The exercise began Monday, July 13, and will conclude Friday.
"This is a unique experience that we don't take lightly," said Colonel Ross Anderson. "Not only is it the best job in the world, it's the best job with my brother by my side."