Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unit Prepped For Mission

By Jeff Arnold
Southwest Times Record
August 9, 2009, 11:51 AM CDT

TUCSON, Ariz. — In July 2005, the 188th Fighter Wing was looking at the beginning of the end.

Two months earlier, the National Guard Bureau was determining how far to roll back fences at Ebbing Air National Guard Base after the Pentagon recommended stripping the 188th of its primary mission, F-16 fighter jets, pilots and about 700 employees.

Four years later on July 27, about 335 members of the 188th deployed to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz., in preparation for a 2010 deployment to Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Although the 188th survived, the F-16s didn't; the 188th was given a new mission as an A-10 fighter wing, tasked with providing close-air support for ground troops.

A local task force guided by civic leaders appealed the Pentagon recommendation to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which in August 2005 voted to remove the F-16s at the 188th and replace them with the A-10s.

Among those appealing to BRAC was B.J. Ginger, an F-16 crew chief tasked with directing the maintenance and repair of the fighter jets.

"The pilots would break 'em and I would fix 'em, but I decided I wanted to break 'em," Ginger said Thursday.

After Ginger applied and was accepted for pilot training in 2005, the Pentagon announced its recommendation to realign the 188th and relocate its F-16s.

Live Weapons Fire

A transcript of an interview with Ginger, done days before he deployed to Iraq in 2005, was used in material submitted by the local task force to BRAC.

"If Fort Smith did not have a base, I would not have signed up anywhere else. There is not another base close enough to where my life is centered to relocate, or go month to month. It would not be worth it to me," Ginger said in part.

Now 1st Lt. B.J. "Hummer" Ginger of Fort Smith is a 188th A-10 pilot, among the 335-personnel contingent returning from Davis-Monthan after the unit's first large-scale training deployment since receiving its first A-10s in April 2007. The final two of the 188th's 21 fighters arrived in April 2008.

Ginger said the training at Davis-Monthan was significant, in part because it was the first opportunity for many pilots to fire live weapons, namely the Mark 82, a 500-pound unguided bomb.

Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander, said the training guarantees his pilots won't have to fire live weapons from an A-10 for the first time in Afghanistan.

While many pilots fired live weapons for the first time, for the weapons-loading crews, the two-week exercise helped to build confidence as well as provide experience.

"It's reassuring to see them (the A-10s) come back from missions with all things going as expected," said Tech. Sgt. Amy Furr, a member of a weapons standardization crew, which supervises the weapons-loading crews.

Furr, of Fort Smith, and her crew mates Master Sgt. Ron Doyel of Mulberry and Tech. Sgt. Michael Aponte of Van Buren observe crews load the planes, assure weapons are loaded to specification and answer any questions for the crews.

'107 Is 107'

Aponte, who like his teammates loaded weapons on F-16s during prior 188th deployments to Iraq, said the weapons loaded beneath the wings for the F-16 and A-10 have some similarities, while placement of the forward 30mm cannon is the biggest difference.

The typical armament the A-10s will employ in Afghanistan takes about two hours per plane to load, Doyel said.

It's a labor-intensive task, which is made no less difficult working in the 100-plus degree weather of the Arizona desert.

Furr said the weather in Tucson over the past two weeks has been reminiscent of Iraq.

Asked if the "dry" heat of Arizona is better than the humidity of Fort Smith, Aponte said "107 is 107," in reference to the temperature in Tucson on Wednesday.

While members of the 188th dealt with the heat for two weeks, a group of civic and business leaders, educators, public officials and elected officials, briefly experienced the conditions Wednesday when they traveled with elements of the 188th command staff aboard two KC-135 Stratotankers, for a 11/2-day trip to Davis-Monthan, returning Thursday afternoon.

Anderson said the purpose of the trip is to expose the public to the work of the men and women of the 188th.

"We are citizen soldiers that need the support of our community," Anderson said.

Among the group that traveled to Davis-Monthan was William Ginger, father of 1st Lt. B.J. Ginger, who was making his second visit to the Tucson air base.

In October he attended his son's graduation from A-10 pilot training at the Tucson Air Force base, but this time Ginger anticipated watching his son do a mid-air refuel of his A-10 from the KC-135 while he was aboard the tanker.

Father And Son

During the flight out, four 188th A-10s were refueled by the KC-135s carrying the guests of the 188th, with plans to refuel four additional A-10s on the return flight, including one piloted by B.J. Ginger.

B.J. Ginger said it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a father to be aboard the KC-135 that would refuel his A-10.

To witness the refueling, members of the groups about the KC-135s had to take turns viewing from a small space in the rear of the aircraft through a small window.

In anticipation of seeing his son refuel on the return trip, William Ginger didn't take a turn viewing on the trip to Davis-Monthan. Unfortunately a problem with equipment aboard the KC-135 prevented a midair refuel on the return trip.

Ginger said he was disappointed about not seeing his son refuel, but was still excited to see him and enjoyed the trip through "The Boneyard."

The Boneyard is a collection of more than 4,000 retired aircraft at Davis-Monthan, some kept intact for future use and some used for spare parts.

Although his son is a ready reminder of the commitment so many men and women made when they join the armed forces, Ginger said the trip still reinforced for him that people should be mindful of soldiers and the conditions they endure.

Southside High School Principal Wayne Haver, who was among the guests who flew to Davis-Monthan, summarized what many said about their observations in the Arizona desert.

"We see the planes flying around town, but you don't really know the full depth of their jobs until you see something like this."

The next test for the 188th, before its deployment to Afghanistan, is a combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas in October, an exercise that will simulate missions the unit will be expected to carry out in the Middle East.

Capt. Drew Nash flies his A-10 Thunderbolt II off to the right after refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker Wednesday over Arizona near Davis-Monthan AFB. Operating the boom from the Stratotanker is Tech Sgt. Adam Ward, who is stationed at Tinker AFB.

William Ginger, left, shakes hands with his son, 1st Lt. B.J. "Hummer" Ginger, an A-10 pilot with the 188th Fighter Wing, as they say goodbye Thursday. The senior Ginger was part of a civic group that visited members of the 188th, who were completing two weeks of training at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Ariz.


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