Written by John Andrew Prime
12:05 AM, Jan. 21, 2012
Adapting to the latest in a series of dramatic changes, air crews with the local 47th Fighter Squadron will deploy to Afghanistan in the next few weeks.
The increased training tempo may be apparent to people living near the base and residents of the south Arkansas training ranges who have seen its twin-tailed A-10 Warthog jet fighters go through paces as the pilots ready to take part again in war.
Just over a year ago, the 917th Wing ceased to be and separated its components, with bombers going to the new 307th Bomb Wing and the A-10 fighters under Travis' command going into the 917th Fighter Group. Though based here, the Reserve fighters are under the Missouri-based 442nd Fighter Wing.
In addition to that corporate restructuring, the 47th Fighter Squadron was told to change from being a training unit to a combat unit, and also to transition to the newest model of the A-10, the A-10C.
"It's a significant change in the way we do business," said Lt. Col. Jim Travis, the squadron's commander. "There's tactics that changed, there's equipment that changed, and the guys have risen to the challenge of not only knowing how to do the tactics with the equipment, but they're school house instructors that are going to combat-coded level of skill-sets. And then all of a sudden we get this new equipment. We had three years to convert and we're deploying at the year-and-a-half mark."
The deploying air crews and other squadron personnel will catch up with almost 250 fellow Reservists from Barksdale and Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., who left for Afghanistan in late December.
The deployed airmen represent various units from the local 917th Fighter Group and Whiteman's 442nd Fighter Wing.
The units maintain and operate the Warthog, the informal crew name for what the service calls the Thunderbolt II, which provides close air support to ground troops with a wife assortment of bombs and missiles and its best-known weapon, a fierce 30-millimeter Gatling gun.
"The purpose of A-10 combat power is to keep others safe," Col. Eric S. Overturf, 442nd Fighter Wing commander, told his deploying troops at the December departure, according to the wing's website. "Because you're going over there to employ this aircraft and its munitions, you are ensuring that a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine can return home safely to his family."
The wing, which took over the 917th Fighter Group a year ago, has deployed four times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the east coast.
The deployed personnel are expected to return in the spring, or as Travis put it, "home by Easter."
Morale is high, he said, with many personnel eager to fill the deployment slots.
"A good challenge makes for good morale," he said. "Everybody around here walks around with fire in their heart."
Travis said his squadron's job "is to defend the Army mission." Drawing a comparison to the end of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," where air power saves the day for the embattled soldiers, he said his unit's goal is "to make sure they've got what it takes to be able to provide somebody's movie ending right."