By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 22, 2009 - American volunteers flying shark-faced P-40 Tomahawks protected China during World War II, and their legacy has become a fixture in the war in Afghanistan. In homage to the storied airmen of the past, the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., has the iconic shark's face painted on the front of its A-10 Thunderbolt II's, lovingly nicknamed the "Warthog."
The Warthogs provide daily close-air-support and precision-engagement missions throughout Afghanistan in support of coalition ground forces.
The squadron has had at least two aircraft airborne and providing support to their warrior counterparts on the ground on every day of its deployment. But the 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit keeps the A-10s ready to fly.
"Just like the airmen that defended China in World War II, the 74th AMU is often short on resources, said Air Force Capt. James Schieser, officer in charge of the squadron's maintenance unit. The maintenance airmen make do with what they have to maintain their aging aircraft, he added. "The strong leadership, dedication and perseverance of our noncommissioned officers, senior noncommissioned officers and officer corps, are what ensure every aircraft is fully mission-capable. The maintainers of the 74th AMU understand, with the Flying Tiger legacy they inherited, failure is not an option."
The Flying Tigers have broken records by flying more than 12,000 mission hours, expending more than 100 tons of ordnance since arriving in February. Sometime, though, all it takes is a show of force to end an engagement.
"We seek to avoid civilian casualties in all our operations - period," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Victor Castillo, weapons section superintendent. "We have a variety of methods we use, including loading of precision-guided munitions, monthly updates of aircraft digital maps and daily maintenance of our targeting systems to ensure the safety of innocent civilians on the ground."
But when enemy combatants don't flee after a show of force, the Warthog can deliver a precise strike to protect coalition ground forces.
Army Spc. Jason Dorsey, Company C, 178th Infantry, saw firsthand the precision and power of the Warthog.
"The A-10s were a valuable asset to us on ground missions here in Afghanistan," Dorsey said. "Their speed and precise targeting provided great support for us and kept the bad guys' heads down during firefights."
"We have so many soldiers coming in from the field to thank us - it's their stories of desperately needing air [support] and seeing an A-10 flying overhead providing cover for them that kept us energized and motivated," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Thomas E. Moore, lead production superintendent for the maintenance unit. "It kept us working hard even when it seemed all we were doing was launching and recovering jets 24/7."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung serves with the 455th Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)