Sunday, January 10, 2010

188th Fighter Wing deploys first group of Airmen to Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation in Afghanistan

by Capt. Heath Allen
188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

1/10/2010 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- A stream of tears gave way to a flood of emotions as their loved ones boarded a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 bound for Afghanistan.

Hands waved vigorous goodbyes, some wielding American flags as the aircraft rolled down the runway and minutes later thundered into the transparent blue distance.

Approximately 50 Airmen from the 188th Fighter Wing deployed to Afghanistan as part of the unit's Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotation.

The Airmen departed the 188th Jan. 4 to begin a four-month rotation in Afghanistan, where they will join the 175th Wing, based in Baltimore, Md. The 188th and 175th will each deploy A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" to facilitate the rotation's mission.

The 188th will deploy approximately 300 personnel to Afghanistan during the entire AEF rotation. The remainder of the 188th personnel, approximately 250, will begin its portion of the rotation in March 2010, when the 188th's official rotation begins.

"This is what the 188th has trained for and what we work so hard to prepare for," said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "The 188th has received the best training possible and we have the utmost confidence that we will be an asset to the mission."

While the 188th prepares year-round for its mission, it has conducted intense training over the past six months in preparation for its AEF rotation. The 188th deployed approximately 300 operations, maintenance and support personnel along with 13 of the unit's 21 A-10s to Operation Snowbird at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., July 25-Aug. 8, 2009.

The deployment to Davis-Monthan furnished the 188th with the opportunity to conduct training and gain operational experience in a mountainous, desert terrain, which closely mimics the climate and conditions in Afghanistan. The 188th flew 186 sorties totaling 437 hours during its deployment to Davis-Monthan.

The 188th deployed approximately 200 pilots, maintenance and support personnel to Green Flag West at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Oct. 9-23, 2009, for additional training. The 188th deployed 10 A-10Cs to Nellis.

The primary motive of Green Flag was to duplicate warfare conditions currently found in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aircrew engaged in battle exercises that furnished training in which they worked closely with joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) to protect nearly 6,000 Soldiers and 400 armored and support vehicles from an opposing enemy force in a 1,000-square-mile combat environment.

While at Green Flag, the 188th dropped a diverse array of munitions and bombs, including GBU-38 JDAMs, GBU-12 LGBs, MK-82s (inert), MK-66 rockets and AGM-65 Mavericks as well as firing 30 MM rounds from the A-10's GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun.

All of that training was to prepare the 188th for what it will encounter in Afghanistan.

"The A-10 is the best platform for close-air support, which will be our primary task in Afghanistan," Anderson said. "The A-10 has surgical capabilities and can destroy pinpoint targets, which is vital when attempting to eliminate collateral damage."

The impending deployment marks the first AEF rotation for the 188th as an A-10 unit. The 188th officially transitioned from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the A-10 April 14, 2007.

The 188th's last AEF deployment transpired in 2005 when the unit deployed 267 Airmen and 10 F-16s to Balad Air Base, Iraq., while sharing a four-month rotation. In 2005, more than half of the 188th's 1,000 personnel deployed in some capacity in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We've been to war before and deployed Airmen into battle, just in a different aircraft," Anderson said. "I appreciate all the service of all of our Airmen and their families. We have a great support system in place to ensure that each member of our unit and their families are taken care of during this deployment."

While many 188th Airmen were logging their first deployments, others were making a return trip to the Middle East, though to a different location with a different aircraft and saddled with a much different family dynamic.

"Before when I deployed, I was just a single guy picking up and moving," said Tech Sgt. Shawn Thorne, a crew chief with the 188th. "Now I'm a husband and a father and it's a much different feeling when you're leaving a wife and children behind."

Members of the 188th Fighter Wing board a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 prior to departing for Afghanistan January 4, 2010. The 188th deployed approximately 50 Airmen to Afghanistan for a four-month Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotation. The remainder of the 188th personnel, approximately 250, will begin its portion of the rotation in March 2010, when the 188th's official rotation begins. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephen Hornsey) Hi-res


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