South Carolina Air National Guard wraps up successful Afghanistan deployment
By Tech. Sgt. Stephen Hudson, 169th FW/PA-Deployed
/ Published September 08, 2012
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- In August, the Swamp Foxes of the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing wrapped up an historic four-month deployment to Afghanistan. Having accomplished their mission there, the wing recently handed responsibility for the Air Tasking Order over to their replacements from the Minnesota Air Guard's 148th Fighter Wing and the 35th Fighter Wing from Misawa Air Base, Japan.
The Swamp Foxes added to their rich legacy as the Air Force's premier fighter wing by flying an astounding number of missions while deployed. They flew more than 2,200 sorties for more than 9,400 combat hours and never missed an ATO, thus concluding the AEF deployment with a 100 percent completion rate.
Lt. Col. Boris Armstrong, 157th Expeditionary Fighter Wing Squadron commander, said, "Our biggest success was right where it needed to be - providing ground commanders close air support 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week for 120 days straight.
"Given CAS is not our primary mission, it took a very well-planned and executed spin-up program to prepare for this AEF while balancing our obligation to remain competent at our primary mission sets."
In April, the 169th deployed 18 F-16s and about 400 personnel (including pilots, maintenance specialists, and support staff) to support Operation Enduring Freedom from Kandahar. Meanwhile, throughout the four-month AEF rotation, the home team continued to train to "feed the fight" while simultaneously executing the Aerospace Control Alert mission at McEntire.
Since taking over the ATO in mid-April, the deployed unit completed more than 1,400 joint tactical air requests, 400 troops-in-contact and 469 Priority Taskings. The McEntire team provided more than 170 "shows of force," dropped more than 200 bombs and expended more than 7,000 rounds of 20mm.
The flying mission obviously could not have been as successful in meeting the ATO without the behind-the-scenes efforts of the crew chiefs and maintenance crews working in the brutal Afghan summer heat to keep the jets airborne.
Armstrong said, "It is staggering when you look at the workload, the inspections and a phase requirement for F-16s flying so many hours, not to mention the rate at which parts wear out or break. My hat is off to them."
The Airmen completed 23 phase inspections during the deployment. In other words, every time a jet hit 400 hours in the air the maintenance staff did a complete breakdown of scheduled and preventative maintenance. In fact, in May the Swamp Fox Airmen set a record for Phases completed at Kandahar Airfield with eight jets.
Maj. Shari Askins, officer in charge of F-16 maintenance while deployed to Kandahar, said , "The sacrifices they have made and the demands they have met are immeasurable.
"Walking the flight line in 118 degree heat with jets running, dust blowing in your face and the constant anticipation of incoming rockets. I was constantly reminded why I am a part of this unit. The dedication and camaraderie is truly remarkable."
Askins deployed in June, rotating with Capt. Grady Patterson, who served as the officer in charge for the first leg of the deployment. She said her most memorable moment was watching South Carolina F-16s take off from Kandahar Airfield "to answer the calls from our men and women in the field."
This was the wing's largest deployment since Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the fourth major deployment of its F-16s since 2002 when the Swamp Foxes deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where they flew more than 200 combat missions in the early days of the Afghan Campaign. The wing also deployed in 2003 and 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.