Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hundreds from D-M will fight Taliban

A-10 pilots, support crews off to Afghanistan this week

By Carol Ann Alaimo
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.08.2009

Hundreds of Tucson airmen are headed to Afghanistan to help shore up the U.S. military's renewed focus on the region.

About 300 pilots, aircraft mechanics and support personnel from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are due to leave by week's end for a six-month tour overseas.

A squadron of D-M's A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jets will lead the way, departing first. The jets will be followed a day or two later by remaining personnel from D-M's 354th "Bulldogs" Fighter Squadron and the 355th Maintenance Group.

The units, both part of the base's 355th Fighter Wing, operate and maintain the A-10. The aircraft's main role is providing close air support to ground troops, and it has been widely used in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The 355th Fighter Wing is ready for combat. We are sending America's best warriors into harm's way, confident in their ability to successfully execute their mission," said a statement from Col. Robert Singleton, the wing's vice commander.

While the airmen are away, they can take comfort "knowing their families are welcomed and cared for in this community," Singleton said.

The units last deployed in 2007 to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

During that tour, D-M personnel flew nearly 1,400 combat missions, mostly providing airborne backup to ground troops driving the Taliban from southern Afghanistan.

Since then, the Taliban have reclaimed some ground, a trend cited by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his recent announcement that America's military focus was shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan.

"I am gravely concerned about the progress they have made in the south and inside Pakistan," Mullen said of the Taliban in a statement in May on the Pentagon's Web site.

Singleton said D-M's pilots are well-prepared for war because they've been practicing under prime conditions in Southern Arizona.

"The terrain, the weather, the airspace — few places offer such ideal training grounds," he said.


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