Thursday, June 7, 2007

Misawa squadrons swap out Iraqi mission

7-Jun-07
by 1st Lt. Shannon Collins
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Two F-16 Fighting Falcons flying thousands of feet in the air track a pair of vehicles full of known al-Qaida insurgents on the ground. The vehicles stop at a location free of collateral damage, and command officials make a decision. The F-16s drop precision-guided munitions and destroy the vehicles.

It is another successful mission to improve the security situation so Iraqi people can make the choices and do the work necessary to build a secure, stable and self-governing nation.

This is just one of the many successful missions one fighter squadron performed while deployed here from Misawa Air Base, Japan. Now, they're passing the torch as one unit redeploys back to Japan as its sister squadron from Misawa AB replaces them.

More than 260 pilots, maintainers and support Airmen from the 13th Fighter Squadron and 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Misawa AB arrived here May 29 and 30 to swap places with 14th FS Airmen as part of air expeditionary force 7 and 8.

The mission for these squadrons is suppression of enemy air defenses, wherein they protect other aircraft from surface-to-air missiles using high-speed anti-radiation missiles and conventional bombs. They protect themselves and friendly aircraft from enemy aircraft with advanced air-to-air radar and avionics systems.

Though the pilots maintain the capability to support that mission for U.S. Central Command officials at a moment's notice, they fly in the close-air-support role with advanced targeting pods.

"Both squadrons had to undergo a rigorous four- to five-month spin up program to be ready for the deployment," said Lt. Col. Charles Toplikar, the 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. "Our success in the transition has been phenomenal."

Throughout the deployment for AEF 5 and 6, the 14th EFS Airmen flew about 1,400 sorties and about 5,800 hours throughout the area of responsibility. They employed ordnance against enemy forces 46 times and provided support to ground forces operations by "show of force" and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Show of force can be dropping flares to let insurgents know fighter aircraft were nearby. These instances mainly aided ground forces when they were receiving small arms fire from insurgents.

Though the close-air-support mission is new to the squadron, being in Iraq isn't.

"We were the first non-stealth aircraft over Baghdad on day one of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003," Colonel Toplikar said.

The native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he is proud of his Airmen and their role in the war on terrorism.

"Both my fighter squadron and the supporting aircraft maintenance units Airmen are very young, with less than 15 percent having ever deployed to a combat environment," he said. "We trained hard for more than four months, focusing on our new mission. Everyone, from the youngest Airman up, has risen to every challenge."

The 14th EFS' sister squadron, the 13th EFS, is ready for the upcoming challenge, said Lt Col. Steve Williams, the 13th EFS commander.

"We've been working hard to train for this challenge, and now it's time to put our training to the test," said the native of Midland, Mich. "Our team building has been ongoing for many months because a successful mission relies on Airmen from every career field -- weapons crews, avionic techs, fuels, life support, intelligence, controllers, maintainers and pilots.

"I'm confident our team will accomplish any (Combined Forces Air Component commander) tasking with success and professionalism," he said. "We're focused on the challenge and appreciate the opportunity to support our nation's calling and continue the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen."

Photo - Lt. Col. Steve Williams inspects his F-16 Fighting Falcon before flying his first combat mission for air expeditionary force 7 and 8 May 30 from Balad Air Base, Iraq. Colonel Williams is the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. More than 260 Airmen from the 13th EFS and 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Misawa Air Base, Japan, took over the close-air-support mission from their sister squadron, the 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. Photo by 1st Lt. Shannon Collins.

Source: CENTCOM link is broken, so I am using the Air Force link.

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