Sunday, April 4, 2010

188th Fighter Wing supporting missions in Afghanistan, sees combat action in first AEF deployment with A-10s

A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots Lt. Col. Mark Anderson, left, and Lt. Col. Charlie Holden, both members of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, step to their aircraft in preparation for a mission to provide close-air support to troops in contact on the ground near Kandahar on March 21, 2010. The pilots are among more than 250 members of the 188th currently deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan as part of an Air Expeditionary Force rotation. The unit is scheduled to return home in May. (Photo by Lt. Col. Keith Moore/ Arkansas Air National Guard Public Affairs Hi-res

by Lt. Col. Keith Moore
Arkansas National Guard Public Affairs Officer

4/2/2010 - KANDAHAR AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- More than 200 members of the Arkansas National Guard's 188th Fighter Wing from Fort Smith deployed here in early March to begin their portion of an Air Expeditionary Force rotation as a component of the 451st Fighter Group. The Arkansas unit is fulfilling the second two months of a four-month rotation that was begun by a sister A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" unit, the175th Fighter Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard. The 188th's current rotation will last through May.

This is the first deployed AEF rotation overseas for the "Flying Razorbacks" since the unit made its conversion from the F-16 to the A-10 aircraft in April 2007. But from all indications the unit members, aircraft and crews were ready.

"We had a good train up before coming here, both at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and at the Green Flag-West exercise in Nevada, so we were ready to be doing exactly what we are doing here in southern Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Mark Anderson, one of the 188th's A-10 pilots.

The A-10 mission in southern Afghanistan is to fly close-air support in response to ground troops who may be in contact with the enemy, or to escort convoys in particularly hostile areas. When not supporting ground troops, the aircraft will patrol designated sectors and provide aerial reconnaissance on locations of interest to ground commanders.

"We fly 12 to 16 sorties a day, around the clock," Anderson said. "But in the two weeks we've been flying we haven't yet had to expend any ordinance. The flying is great, but not getting to drop [weapons] when we go out is a bit frustrating. Sometimes we get to do some low -evel shows of force. And they always result in the enemy breaking contact with forces on the ground."

Anderson's comments were made just days before the 188th's opportunity came knocking with a call for low-level support to a U.S. Marine unit pinned down on the outskirts of a village near Marjaf. Two of the 188th's pilots fired approximately 250 rounds each with their Warthog's 30 mm Gatling guns. After completing two passes over the battle, the Airmen received the 'all clear' from the Marines on the ground.

Typically, flight missions range from two to five hours. Pilots will either be tasked to support specific ground units and operations, or they will be on patrol checking sectors with one to 10 points of interest for reconnaissance. At any time during a patrol a weapons system controller may divert them to assist ground forces as necessary.

From a maintenance perspective things also seem to be going well for the 188th as Master Sgt. Justin Likens, an aircraft crew chief , points out.

"The aircraft have done very well since we got here despite the dusty conditions," he said. "You see the minor, normal stuff, but no major system or equipment failures."

Fellow crew chief, Master Sgt. Jay Greer, echoed the upbeat sentiment of the deployment.

"Most of the guys I have talked to are glad to be here," Greer said. "[It] makes us feel like we are contributing to the fight to make sure those planes are ready to go for each and every mission. If our guys on the ground need the air cover, it's our job to make sure they are ready to fly."

Lt. Col. James Krimmell, a member of the 188th serving as deputy commander for the 451st Air Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Group during the AEF rotation, tempered the frustration of the pilots in not employing weapons.

"We'd like to fly every mission and never have to drop anything," Krimmell said.

But he simultaneously complimented the crews for their effectiveness.

"Although they may not drop every time they go out, the skill and professionalism of the crew is reflected in the fact that they are effective without doing so," Krimmell said. "Nevertheless, the reality is ... they are prepared if necessary."

Krimmell also praised the ground support staff for their role in maintaining a high mission capable rate. Krimmell said that the sortie tempo and distance to a maintenance depot makes attention to maintenance much more critical in a deployed environment.

"The motivation level in the back shops is focused on keeping the planes flying," Krimmell said. "For some of the traditional Guardsmen this is an opportunity to realize what they train for continuously. Here they learn how important maintenance is to that 24-hour operational clock."

Col. Robert Hopkins, Jr., commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Group, praised the 188th Guardsmen not only for their aircraft maintenance expertise, but also for their environmental awareness and expertise.

"The Guard guys are great," he said. "When they are not working on the planes, they are fixing something in the shop, or cleaning up, or figuring out a way to make a process run more efficiently."

This early in the deployment the pilots, crews and maintenance personnel are focused on the fight, and doing their part to support coalition operations all across southern Afghanistan. And as the poppy harvest draws near and the troop surge in Afghanistan puts more pressure on the Taliban, the pilots and maintainers of the 188th will get ample opportunity to put their preparation and training for the deployment to the test.

The 188th is currently one of three units from the Arkansas National Guard that is working in southern Afghanistan. In addition there are approximately 200 members of the 1037th Route Clearance Company of the 875th Engineer Battalion from Jonesboro and another 60 Soldiers and Airmen with the Arkansas Agriculture Development Team.

Maj. Brian Ahlert, an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot from the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, based in Fort Smith, conducts preflight inspections on the weapons mountings before a flight on March 19, 2010, from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Ahlert is among more than 250 members of the 188th deployed as part of an Air Expeditionary Force rotation and is assigned to the 451st Fighter Wing at Kandahar. (Photo by Lt. Col. Keith Moore/Arkansas Air National Guard Public Affairs Hi-res


Note: More related photos will be uploaded tomorrow.

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