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FROM THE GUNPOINT: A dark, cold battlefield: My 'Happiest place on Earth'

U.S. Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, directs close-air support as SALT-D member Cpl. Andrew Dimauro uses an infrared pointing and illuminating laser (or B.E. Meyer’s ‘IZLID’) to ‘paint’ targets for inbound AV-8B Harriers. The training was part of exercise Mountain Roundup at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, directs close-air support as SALT-D member Cpl. Andrew Dimauro uses an infrared pointing and illuminating laser (or B.E. Meyer’s ‘IZLID’) to ‘paint’ targets for inbound AV-8B Harriers. The training was part of exercise Mountain Roundup at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Andrew Dimauro scans the desert as Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta members, during joint terminal attack controller training at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. "During this whole Mountain Roundup exercise, we've been partnering with the Germans, Singaporean Air Force and all our U.S. joint partners to train as a combined-joint unit aimed at the same objective," said Lloyd. "Training with our allies is a very important role for ANGLICO because we are the Marine Corps' liaison for coalition partners." (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Andrew Dimauro scans the desert as Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta members, during joint terminal attack controller training at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. "During this whole Mountain Roundup exercise, we've been partnering with the Germans, Singaporean Air Force and all our U.S. joint partners to train as a combined-joint unit aimed at the same objective," said Lloyd. "Training with our allies is a very important role for ANGLICO because we are the Marine Corps' liaison for coalition partners." (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Andrew Dimauro scans the desert as Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta members, during joint terminal attack controller training at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. "During this whole Mountain Roundup exercise, we've been partnering with the Germans, Singaporean Air Force and all our U.S. joint partners to train as a combined-joint unit aimed at the same objective," said Lloyd. "Training with our allies is a very important role for ANGLICO because we are the Marine Corps' liaison for coalition partners." (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Andrew Dimauro scans the desert as Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta members, during joint terminal attack controller training at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. "During this whole Mountain Roundup exercise, we've been partnering with the Germans, Singaporean Air Force and all our U.S. joint partners to train as a combined-joint unit aimed at the same objective," said Lloyd. "Training with our allies is a very important role for ANGLICO because we are the Marine Corps' liaison for coalition partners." (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Chris Walker, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta joint terminal attack controller, annotates coordinates during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Air support in the exercise came from 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles, Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Strike Eagles, U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers and German Air Force AG-51 Tornados. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Chris Walker, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta joint terminal attack controller, annotates coordinates during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Air support in the exercise came from 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles, Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Strike Eagles, U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers and German Air Force AG-51 Tornados. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel Soto, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, scans the desert for targets during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Air support in the exercise came from 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles, Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Strike Eagles, U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers and German Air Force AG-51 Tornados. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel Soto, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, scans the desert for targets during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Air support in the exercise came from 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles, Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Strike Eagles, U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers and German Air Force AG-51 Tornados. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, Cpl. Andrew Dimauro and Cpl. Daniel Soto, all 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta joint terminal attack controllers or forward air controllers, directs close-air support using an infrared pointing and illuminating laser (or B.E. Meyer’s ‘IZLID’) to ‘paint’ targets for inbound AV-8B Harriers, during exercise Mountain Roundup 2013 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. The exercise is part of the German Air Force Tornado Fighter Weapons Instructor Course Mission Employment Phase, and is scheduled to end Oct. 16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, Cpl. Andrew Dimauro and Cpl. Daniel Soto, all 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta joint terminal attack controllers or forward air controllers, directs close-air support using an infrared pointing and illuminating laser (or B.E. Meyer’s ‘IZLID’) to ‘paint’ targets for inbound AV-8B Harriers, during exercise Mountain Roundup 2013 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. The exercise is part of the German Air Force Tornado Fighter Weapons Instructor Course Mission Employment Phase, and is scheduled to end Oct. 16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Chris Walker, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team (SALT) Delta joint terminal attack controller, talks to SALT-Air as he annotates coordinates during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. The base and the 266th Range Squadron control and maintain emitter sites across almost 7,500-square miles of operational range space, and it's that access to airspace and ranges that allows for realistic, safe training and testing while providing the flexibility to accommodate the complexity of this multinational, multiservice exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Capt. Chris Walker, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team (SALT) Delta joint terminal attack controller, talks to SALT-Air as he annotates coordinates during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. The base and the 266th Range Squadron control and maintain emitter sites across almost 7,500-square miles of operational range space, and it's that access to airspace and ranges that allows for realistic, safe training and testing while providing the flexibility to accommodate the complexity of this multinational, multiservice exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel Soto, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, targets insurgents plating improvised-explosive devices during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters with the combat edge. Mountain Home has hosted the training since 2004 because the base has the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient personnel, which creates the perfect location for this type of combined-joint training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel Soto, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta forward air controller, targets insurgents plating improvised-explosive devices during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters with the combat edge. Mountain Home has hosted the training since 2004 because the base has the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient personnel, which creates the perfect location for this type of combined-joint training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

Two U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers use sniper pods to target  insurgents plating improvised-explosive devices with the assistance of U.S. Marine 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team joint terminal attack controllers on the ground, during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters with the combat edge. Mountain Home has hosted the training since 2004 because the base has the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient personnel, which creates the perfect location for this type of combined-joint training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

Two U.S. Navy AV-8B Harriers use sniper pods to target insurgents plating improvised-explosive devices with the assistance of U.S. Marine 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Supporting Arms Liaison Team joint terminal attack controllers on the ground, during a night close-air support scenario at Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Oct. 8, 2013. Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters with the combat edge. Mountain Home has hosted the training since 2004 because the base has the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient personnel, which creates the perfect location for this type of combined-joint training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace/RELEASED)

Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho -- It's cold and dark. The only sound heard are small crunches in the sage brush as I slowly shift from knee to knee, in attempt to stay warm and keep my legs from falling asleep.

It's well past midnight, the only thing keeping me warm is my breath, but I'm hesitant to breathe because it fogs my camera - the most important tool of a combat photojournalist, next to his rifle while downrange.

Gazing through my night vision lens, I watch a laser show unfold and, for a moment, my mind slips to Walt Disney World, Fla., where I've witnessed many impressive laser and light shows.

A figure comes into focus. It's U.S. Marine Capt. Chris Walker, 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO, from Camp Pendleton, Calif.) joint terminal attack controller, and he's aiming his infrared pointing and illuminating laser (or B.E. Meyer's 'IZLID') at a target as the roars of AV-8B Harrier turbofan engines erupt in my ears.

Snapping back to reality, it's instantly clear I'm not at the "Happiest place on Earth."

No, I'm in Idaho, at the Juniper Butte bombing range near Mountain Home Air Force Base and have a job to do.

Up on one knee now, I continued to shoot photographic imagery and video as Walker, and seven other Marines from 1st ANGLICO Supporting Arms Liaison Team Delta (SALT-D) direct U.S. Navy, German Air Force and Royal Singaporean Air Force close-air support on insurgents planting an improvised-explosive device during exercise Mountain Roundup 2013.

Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters the combat edge. The realism is in Afghanistan and on virtually any battlefield past or present, combat doesn't end when the sun sets, so it's essential participants at Mountain Roundup continue to train through the night.

Anyone who's spent time in Southern or Western Afghanistan would likely agree the deserts around Mountain Home look very familiar. That realistic environment makes the perfect location for ground forces to operate against fictitious enemies and perform JTAC training.

We also have the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient Airmen here. So, though this is my first Mountain Roundup, I'm not surprised the GAF, ANGLICO Marines and other combatants consider Mountain Home the perfect location for this type of combined-joint training.

"During this whole Mountain Roundup exercise, we've been partnering with the Germans, Singaporean Air Force and all our U.S. joint partners to train as a combined-joint unit aimed at the same objective," said Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st ANGLICO forward air controller. "Training with our allies is a very important role for ANGLICO because we are the Marine Corps' liaison for coalition partners."

Though night elements, frigid weather and coarse terrain didn't slow SALT-D down, however, politics early this fiscal year certainly throttled back the overall air power exhibited in the sky.

Many U.S. Air National Guard and Air Force participants couldn't participate in Mountain Roundup because of the government shutdown. The exercise kicked-off Sept. 30 and it wasn't until Oct. 15 when the host 366th Fighter Wing's F-15E Strike Eagles from the 391st Fighter Squadron finally got authorization to join the fight.

Once allowed, the 391st FS Bold Tigers took to the Wild Blue Yonder in masses, flying their screaming Strike Eagles to swiftly provide day and night air support to GAF, ANGLICO and U.S. Air Force JTACs from the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron, from Boise, Idaho.

Day or night, everyone involved hopes to provide more-integrated and proficient combined-joint forces.

"Virtually any contingency operation involving the U.S. Air Force will also involve joint partners and, in all probability, contain coalition partners," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Tapan Sen, 366th FW Weapons and Tactics Flight commander. "Inexperienced aircrews profit from simply being airborne with 80 to 100 other aircraft; from the extremely busy radios to the complex plans addressing airspace and target area conflicts with other aircraft."

Unhindered by the elements, Walker, Lloyd and SALT-D continued to direct bombs on target as they provided vital night-time combat experience to the pilots above. In SALT-D forward air controller Marine Sgt. Joel Flores' words, "it's not the flag on your arm or service patch on your chest that defines a warrior; it's the ethos of a man (or woman) who refuses to stand-by when his country needs him most."

I agree 100 percent with Flores and couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, as fellow 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs members Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton, Airman 1st Class Devin Nothstine and I drove the nearly three hours back to base early the next morning, I reflected on what Flores said.

Its nights like this when Florida weather is very becoming, but put me on a hilltop with some brothers-in-arms using IZLIDS and calling in air strikes, and I'm good to go. Perhaps, for me, Disney isn't the happiest place on earth after-all.

Aside from family time, I'm truly happiest with frozen toes, a head covered in sweat, camera in hand, and in the company of world-class Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, or working with the world's best Airmen and our allies.

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🇺🇸🇨🇱This week 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) hosted Airmen to Airmen talks between the United States Air Force and the Fuerza Aérea De Chile. Chilean Air Force Major General Francisco Torres led the Chilean delegation in planning future multinational events between the two Air Forces.
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#EnduringPromise Take a moment to check out all the work the New Horizons Guyana construction members have accomplished on across Linden and the village of Yarrowkabra.
Airmen from the U.S. and Colombia have worked closely this month during Exercise Relámpago! F-16s from the South Carolina Air National Guard have joined with Kfir fighters from the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana for this critical air-to-air exercise, which was also an opportunity to build relationships and strengthen ties between two partner nations. #Relámpago4 #EnduringPromise #Promesaduradera U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Embajada de los Estados Unidos Colombia
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Unsafe intercepts such as this are irresponsible. They increase the risk and potential for collisions. International airspace needs to be a place where everyone flies safely and within international norms.
After a successful F-AIR Colombia air show, the U.S. and the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana continued their work together during Exercise Relámpago! Airmen from the South Carolina Air National Guard worked closely with their counterparts in the Colombian Air Force and continued to share knowledge, exchange experiences and improve interoperability between partner nations. #Relámpago4 #EnduringPromise #PromesaDuradera U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Embajada de los Estados Unidos Colombia
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It is rare in military operations for the composition of female service members to reach 20% and also increasingly… https://t.co/8tYsrUhW5z
#StrengtheningPartnerships! #AFSOUTH in collaboration with @ProjectHOPEorg recently facilitated the donation of mor… https://t.co/R3XH8e1MxG
@usairforce Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. recently signed perhaps the most sweeping change of Air Force… https://t.co/jZ2JKbqJsf
Her work has underscored the importance of women’s inclusion in leadership positions, aviation, as well as the cybe… https://t.co/b3PD844VKr
She has traveled throughout the SOUTHCOM AOR both as a #C130 instructor navigator promoting aviation careers amongs… https://t.co/zt1ClzcDzG
Congratulations to Colonel Sarah Russ, #AFSOUTH’s Gender Focal Point supporting the @DeptofDefense and @Southcom's… https://t.co/3g46L0LXxl
Human rights and rule of law are critical to U.S. values. #AFSOUTH supports the @DeptofDefense and @Southcom's effo… https://t.co/RjstRNfjnm
RT @usairforce: The Air Force released its new mission statement: To fly, fight, and win … airpower anytime, anywhere. Read more: https://…
RT @Southcom: #SOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Craig Faller is in #Argentina to meet with defense leaders to discuss shared security concerns & the…
#AFSOUTH Foreign Liaison Officers from Brazil🇧🇷, Chile🇨🇱, Colombia🇨🇴, and Peru🇵🇪 completed an immersion with the 35… https://t.co/mObTOFJqn3
RT @Southcom: #GoldStarSpousesDay #HonorThem "No one knows the important cost of sacrifice better than our Gold Star Spouses & Families; w…
RT @DeptofDefense: On this #NationalDoctorsDay, we celebrate the DOD doctors who provide care and make a difference around the world. Thank…
More from #CENTAMSMOKE! #Firefighters conducted vehicle extraction exercises using the #jawsoflife and continued wo… https://t.co/4n6tB6bVtd
Exercise #CENTAMSMOKE has begun! The #612thABS firefighters are ready for an exciting and challenging week next to… https://t.co/T42yiWU45B
The #DentonProgram, is a jointly administered program of @USAID, the @StateDept and the @DeptofDefense. This progra… https://t.co/Kdctx8EiEg
@Fuerzaaereapy, @usairforce & @Southcom teamed up for the first in person Subject Matter Expert Exchange since… https://t.co/sCRTcULxi2
RT @Southcom: Senior military leaders from @deptofdefense, Canada, France, Netherlands & UK held strategic level discussions exploring the…

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