Monday, November 3, 2008

47th FS pilots do their part in War on Terrorism

by Capt. Newman Robertson
917th Wing Public Affairs

11/2/2008 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- As the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft performed a combat decent, an aggressive maneuver done by C-17 pilots to avoid potential enemy missile fire, into the airport, the reality of being in a combat zone set in just as quickly as the aircraft stopped after landing.

When Lt. Col. Jim "Skid" Marks, Assistant Director of Operations, stepped off the C-17 aircraft at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on June 15, 2008, he was unsure what to expect. "This was my first time in combat," said Colonel Marks. "After 23 years of service, I got a chance to do what I had been trained to do." He, along with Major John Bachtell, Chief of Scheduling, augmented the 190th Fighter Squadron, Boise, Idaho Air National Guard, while Major Robert Hetland, Weapons Officer, and Lt. Col. Marc Olson, Sortie Production Manager, flew with the Willow Grove, Penn., ANG A-10 unit, as they conducted missions supporting the International Security Assistance Forces, as well as U.S. and NATO forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"This was a classic rainbow operation," said Colonel Marc Olson. "There were several maintenance and support folks representing the 917th Wing over there helping out with the other units." Colonel Olson added. "This was a great opportunity for all of us to gain some recent operational experience."

"While in Afghanistan, we provided Close Air Support for the ground forces using the "Hawgs" 30MM cannon delivering high-explosive, incendiary rounds, 2.75-inch rockets and laser guided bombs; provided route clearance which entails looking at routes for potential improvised explosive devices and/or enemy positions; convoy escorts; provided armed over watch; and engaged enemy positions when called upon by the joint terminal attack controllers," said Colonel Marks. Additionally, they also flew "show of force" missions in which they flew low over enemy positions to dissuade them from attacking. The pilots had use of advanced targeting pods and night vision goggles to better see the battlefield for both day and night operations.

"Once we got over the initial shock of being in a war zone, our focus quickly turned to the mission", said Colonel Marks.

"The hardest part of the deployment was watching the flag draped caskets of our fallen comrades being taken to the transport for their final journey home," said Colonel. Marks, "This served as a constant reminder to us why our mission was so important." Like many, the pilots of the 47th Fighter Squadron had to adjust to the stress associated with being in a combat environment as well as the living conditions and constant thoughts of home and family.

The 47th FS is a training unit, and as such, is not tasked to deploy in combat. According to Colonel Bob Nordberg, 917th Operations Group commander, "All four pilots volunteered to augment other deploying units to fill Air Expeditionary Force requirements. As Formal Training Unit instructors, they represent a cadre of highly experienced and technically proficient A-10 pilots. It's important to get that kind of experience into the combat theater."

Before leaving for Afghanistan, each pilot completed an intensive training regime to prepare for the deployment including training in survival and other combat readiness skills. "The flying training that we do here at the 47th Fighter Squadron is excellent, and it prepared us very well for the missions we accomplished," added Colonel Marks.

"In addition to what these men bring to the fight, the experience they gained in theater will directly translate to improved student training for future A-10 combat pilots," added Colonel Nordberg.

Overall, the experience of deploying and operating in a joint environment is one these pilots will remember for the rest of their lives. "It was a great feeling to be able to use our training to support the ground forces and be there for them when called upon," said Colonel Marks.


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