Tuesday, July 17, 2012

York County soldier returns after Afghanistan tour

Bill Coble, 38, of East Hopewell Township, maintains fuel tanks on the A-10, as part of the Maryland Air National Guard

Bill Coble, 38, of East Hopewell Township, a senior airman with the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard, recently returned from a 90-day tour of duty at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Cobel works on fuel tanks of A-10s, an aircraft that provides ground cover to troops. (SUBMITTED) Full size

By Ted Czech
Daily Record / Sunday News

Senior Airman Bill Coble doesn't consider himself a hero -- he leaves that moniker for the soldiers who go "outside the wire" into villages in Afghanistan, weeding out insurgents.

Coble, 38, of East Hopewell Township, maintains the fuel tanks on the A-10, a juggernaut of an aircraft, loaded with machine guns and bombs, that provides air support for ground troops.

Still, he said, without the work that he and other technicians do, the birds can't fly at top shape. Coble recently returned from a 90-day tour-of-duty at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, as part of the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard.

Coble returned Saturday to his wife, Angie and their two children, son Chase, 16, and daughter Emily, 12.

"Oh, it's awesome," he said, "when you get off the plane, and you're standing on American soil."

Coble, who grew up in New Freedom, said he enlisted in the Navy prior to his graduation from Susquehannock High School in 1992.

"My dad was in the Navy and I had a lot of friends going into the military at the time," he said.

He also saw the benefit in the G.I. Bill, money from his service that he plans to use for Angie to take course in medical office, or his children's college.

He served active-duty in the Navy for two years, and feels fortunate to have been aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga on its final voyage, a tour of the Mediterranean, before it was decommissioned.

Coble then transferred and served nine years with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, without ever making an overseas tour. He then re-enlisted four years ago with the Maryland Air National Guard, and in 2010, was sent to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan for three months.

"I guess it's just something you miss," he said of his continuous service in the military.

While at Bagram, Coble said he tried to concentrate on his work and not think about possible attacks from insurgents, no matter how rare they might be.

"You just try and keep that in the back of your mind," he said. Coble and other members of the 175th worked on the A-10s seven days a week in 12-hour shifts, he said.

The A-10 is an aircraft entirely based on practicality. Engineers designed its 30-mm gun -- similar to a Gatling gun -- and then built the rest of the aircraft around it, Coble said.

The undersides of the A-10's wings are loaded with an array of missiles and bombs too.

Although originally built in the 1970s, the A-10 is a durable plane. But even so, there are problems from time to time, Coble said. Repairs on its fuel tanks can range from minor leaks to internal fuel system malfunctions.

"For the most part, the aircraft flew very well," he said.

As far as downtime, there wasn't a lot that he could do, but he went for runs around the base, watched movies, and took in some good books.

"I did probably the most reading I've ever done in my life," he said.


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