War on Terrorism

Saturday, October 20, 2012

35 FW Airmen return after successful OEF deployment

by Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/18/2012 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- After months in the dusty, arid Afghan desert, Senior Airman Noah Smith, 35th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance weapons specialist, can imagine his upcoming return to Misawa Air Base, Japan, where he will be welcomed by his wife and three-year-old daughter.

"I email them twice a day, but it's getting to see their faces and hear their voices on Skype once a week that keeps me going," said Smith.

In August, Airmen from the 35th Fighter Wing' s 14th Fighter Squadron and 35th Maintenance and Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons deployed to support Operation Enduring Freedom. Pilots, maintainers and additional support staff, along with several F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, completed the aviation package. The deployment was part of an Air Expeditionary Forces rotation, which the 14 FS shared with the 179th Fighter Squadron from Duluth Air National Guard, Minn. Together, they created the 179th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at a deployed location in southern Afghanistan.

Their mission has been to provide close air support to protect coalition and Afghan forces on the ground in Afghanistan, reduce insurgent activity, increase security and provide a smooth transition for the Afghan forces.

"The war on counter insurgency and the stability of the Afghan National Army would not be even close to where it is right now if not for this operation," said Maj. Bill 'Wiley' O'Reilly, 14 FS assistant director of operations. "Afghanistan and the world is a safer place from us being here."

Despite dealing with common struggles Airmen face while deployed, such as living conditions, indirect fire against their installation and the desert sun, Misawa's Airmen found the deployment went smoothly.

According to Smith, the 14 FS trained for exactly this kind of operation every day, which made it a fairly straight-forward deployment. The additional manning from the 179 FS also played a part in making their time go smoother.

"Having more crews can relieve the strain on our entire flight," added Smith.

As a weapons load crew member, Smith and his team made sure they followed their technical orders and followed safety regulations when loading munitions on the fighter jets. Even though they do this on a daily basis back at Misawa, the difference between doing their job in Afghanistan and at home-base is the reality of combat zone dangers and the hazards of being around live munitions.

"It's great to actually do my job in a real world scenario rather than a simulated exercise," said Smith. "There is nothing better than putting live munitions on aircraft for real combat missions."

While deployed, Smith was able to refine his loading skills and further grasp the gravity of his mission.

"Being out here made me more aware of the real threat we face and appreciate what I do every day," said Smith. "I followed every step, ensured my team and I were always cognitive of the safety hazards and became more observant of the maintenance I did. I also focused on making sure our brothers on the ground were safe."

Proper preparation and dedication played a major role in the Airmen' s success during the deployment. Additionally, the seamless integration of the two fighter squadrons was a great success, said O'Reilly.

"The morale of the troops at Kandahar is fantastic and the Airmen of the 35 FW performed remarkably and gained a lot of experience at the same time," said O'Reilly. "A huge credit goes to the base leadership who ensured the facilities were nice, which allowed us to focus on our job."

As a combined unit, the 179 EFS flew over 5,000 hours in support of OEF and supported over 1,400 Joint Terminal Air Requests, Special Operation Missions, Troops-in-Contact situations and executed Shows of Force. They delivered numerous precision guided munitions and fired thousands of rounds of 20 mm ammo.

"It is not possible to track the actual number of coalition lives saved, but it was hundreds," said O'Reilly. "Our presence in the air and munitions delivered reduced insurgent activity."

Smith and O'Reilly both agree that because everyone worked together so well, the mission went smoothly and was a 100 percent success.

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