Monday, March 8, 2010

188th deploys more than 200 to AEF rotation in Afghanistan, surmounts challenges en route to first combat deployment in A-10

by Capt. Heath Allen
188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

3/8/2010 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- The desert skies above Afghanistan will soon be filled with Flying Razorbacks.

More than 200 members of the 188th Fighter Wing departed Fort Smith on an Omni Air International Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Monday, March 8, bound for Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

More than 800 individuals, which included the deploying Airmen and their families, filled the 188th's Consolidated Maintenance Facility to enjoy their final moments together before the deploying Guardsmen were transported to their awaiting airlift on the taxiway.

The Airmen will be deployed for more than two months as part of the 188th's Aerospace Expeditionary Forces (AEF) rotation. The deploying Airmen will join approximately 75 members of the 188th already in Afghanistan, where they will be attached to the 451st Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar.

"We've prepared long and hard for this moment," said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "We have some of the most highly trained, dedicated and capable personnel and I know they are focused on making this mission a success. I have confidence they will make us all proud."

This is the first combat deployment for the 188th as a unit since receiving A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" on April 14, 2007. The 188th's last unit AEF rotation transpired in 2005 when 267 Airmen and 10 F-16 Fighting Falcons deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq., while sharing a three-month rotation with another Air National Guard unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Approximately 50 members of the 188th deployed to Kandahar on Jan. 4 and they will be gone for the entire four-month rotation, which the 188th is sharing with the 175th Fighter Wing, an A-10 unit based in Baltimore, Md.

The 188th has deployed pilots, maintenance and support personnel over the past two weeks to bolster continuity between the 188th and the 175th.

"We have overcome many obstacles to reach this point and now we're ready to put all of our hard work and training to use in a combat environment," Anderson said.

The 188th surmounted myriad impediments following the Base Realignment and Closure Committee's 2005 decision to strip the 188th of its flying mission and its subsequent about-face, which designated the unit for an A-10 assignment.

Much toil and labor went into the successful aircraft conversion from F-16s to A-10As and later an upgrade to A-10Cs. The modification to A-10Cs featured significant capability leaps.

The 188th's ability to meet critical training requirements for its aviators was severely hampered in October 2008 when 168 of the Air Force's 356 A-10s were grounded because of issues with wing cracks.

The Air National Guard outfit, though, found intuitive solutions, shifting into high gear to meet maintenance and pilot training requirements to ensure Monday's moment would happen.

"The amount of training that occurred in that timeframe is absolutely incredible," Anderson said. "It wasn't easy. We had many obstacles along the way. But time and again the 188th stepped up. The 188th didn't make excuses; they made it happen even when the odds were stacked against us and our backs were against the wall. We not only met the requirements, we exceeded them."

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

The deployment to Davis-Monthan afforded 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-West 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. Now the 188th will employ those tactics and years of training in a combat environment.

"Our primary mission is to provide close-air support for the Army," Anderson said. "I know it's not easy for the families as their loved ones venture into a combat mission. We understand that it's not only the 188th members who make the sacrifice but the families as well and we'll all await their safe return."

Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander, shakes hands with members of the 188th Fighter Wing Monday in Fort Smith, Ark. The 188th deployed more than 200 Airmen to Kandahar, Afghanistan as part of the unit's Aerospace Expeditionary Forces rotation. This will mark the 188th's first combat deployment in the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog." (U.S. Air Force photo by Stephen Hornsey / 188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs) Hi-res


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