War on Terrorism

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan: The Planes! The Planes! – Day 14

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs

February 23, 2010 - It was another travel day for Ken and I and as we were flying over southern Afghanistan in a Canadian Chinook, I realized that now would be a good time to talk about my bosses. I’ve been intimately familiar with close air support for years now. I’ve been a public affairs journalist during three of my deployments and each time something would happen where I would have to learn a little bit more about it. Still, I’m not a pilot and I’m nowhere near an expert on the subject.

Every time I’ve visited with infantry the subject of close air support comes up, it must be my uniform or something. Since I’ve always seen the Air Force side, it’s always been intriguing for me to hear about how the soldiers see them.

Fast movers, a soldier term for aircraft, are sometimes frustrating but always loved.

Fast movers come in a very wide variety of shapes, sizes and uses. There’s no possible way for me to talk about all of the different aircraft out there, and if I mention one of them I have to mention all because if I don’t I’ll catch hell for the rest of my career. Although, I would have really liked mentioning the F-15s from RAF Lakenheath, England, my home station, because their incredibly awesome fighters and the B-1Bs at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, because I’m about to move there and those bombers are really cool. Finally, I would have really enjoyed telling you all about the wonderful aircraft and people at the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, here, because they adopted Ken and me and really helped us out. The work they’re doing in Afghanistan is truly inspirational. I also snitched a bunch of their photos from their public Web site, because I didn’t have time to go out there and shoot my own today.

Although I would love to blog about all the Air Forces out there, this blog is from the ground perspective and I need to stick to that.

I went out on a mission in eastern Afghanistan in November, our MRAPs got separated in a little town because all of the houses were so close it was hard to keep track of where the mission was going. So Apache helicopters came in to save the day. They flew circles around us and actually gave us directions on how to get back to the lead vehicle. Then they stayed with us for a few hours while we did something interesting and I’m sure they saw me when I tripped over a small wall and combat rolled into a farmer’s field. They probably have some form of surveillance video of it, which I hope is classified for some reason.

While Ken and I were out at Strong Point Khyber, the U.S. Army was battling it out with some Taliban across the river from us. At sunset, I saw these little U.S. Army Kiowa helicopters and I could hear the “ppffftt” “pppffftt” of their guns hammering away.

Then there’s my favorite, show of force missions, which I would absolutely love to see and photograph, but I’ve never been in position to do so. Let’s say friendly forces are fighting the enemy and they just want to scare them a little bit and let them know we mean business. They can call in a show of force, which is basically a really scary air show. An aircraft comes roaring overhead at very low altitudes to say “Hello Taliban, the Air Force is here and if you don’t smarten up we’ll give you a little present.” Soldiers love these not only because it’s really cool, but because it works really well.

I have quite the list of fast mover experiences when you compare it to the amount of missions I’ve been on. Each time they were there.

With that said, Army Soldiers do get frustrated with them. It takes a long time to get approval to drop bombs. A lot of times, they see the enemy doing something, but then they’re gone before the bombs are approved. One soldier said he’s seen ten separate instances where the enemy got away because it only took the enemy five minutes to do something bad and it took longer than that to get approval.

The reasons for this do make sense. We’re not talking about dropping water balloons, but ordnance anywhere from 500 pound bombs to 2,000 pound bombs. This is a serious amount of destruction and you have to be really careful with it. The military says “scaled use of force.” Meaning if someone’s shooting at you with a rifle, you don’t drop a 2,000 pound warhead on their forehead.

Also, counter insurgency effects air power a lot. If the Taliban are shooting from someone else’s house, do you really want to blow that innocent person’s house up? What if the innocent people are still in there? There are so many questions to be asked and so many secondary and tertiary effects to something of this scale, I can’t even imagine it.

So although the Soldiers do get frustrated with airpower sometimes, when they hear them flying above and you ask them about it, they do smile a little bit.

Also, I have to note, that I’m absolutely and completely biased in this specific blog. I won’t deny the fact I love the service I joined. The times the fast movers came and helped made me so proud I would just beam and brag about them until I know the soldiers around me were sick of it.

There’s one other aircraft I want to mention before I close this up; those little drones that buzz around all the time watching everything that’s happening. Every time I am outside of the wire, I felt like I should look over my uniform for violations because someone in headquarters was watching me via live feed and would call our team leader to yell at me via satellite phone. It’s worth the risk though, because I know the Air Force always has eyes on and is there to save all of our butts if something goes down.

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