MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
Editor’s note: Bowes just returned from a three month deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he served at commander of the 157th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. He submitted these reflections before he re-deployed.
As the sun sets on another successful Swamp Fox Air Expeditionary Force deployment, we have time to reflect on the past three months. Swamp Fox F-16s last deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from March to July of 2001. They were tasked with enforcing the No-Fly Zones of Iraq, supporting Operation Southern Watch. Today, we are supporting three major operations: Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Spartan Shield, and Operation Freedom Sentinel. We are housed in tents and work out of temporary trailers, often in sandstorms and 120 degree heat, all while battling COVID and the numerous challenges that always affect you on deployments. Despite these challenges, we have accomplished the mission in true Swamp Fox fashion.
Each day our aircraft may be tasked to fly missions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or across the Arabian Peninsula and Arabian Gulf. We are tasked with providing air support to provide defensive capabilities against air and ground threats, while also providing a strategic presence to promote stability in the region. We have expended more than 30,000 pounds of munitions and flown more than 4,000 hours on over 800 missions. The missions are long and often don’t result in a lot of excitement, but they are vitally important to the CENTCOM mission. Our presence served as a strategic reminder to our adversaries in the region that the U.S. is committed to ensuring stability in the Middle East.
In keeping with our “Semper Primus” motto, the Swamp Foxes were the first F-16CM unit to deploy with the new APG-83 radar. We were also the first to conduct Integrated Combat Turns, where our maintainers simultaneously loaded our aircraft with live weapons while the engines were still running. This happened at another base 300 miles away and those same weapons were then delivered while conducting an exercise with the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Gulf. We additionally ground refueled F-16s by transferring fuel from a U.S. Marine Corps C-130, completing the first Aircraft to Aircraft Refueling operation in the combat theater.
Swamp Fox aircraft were also overhead as numerous U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard ships transited the Straits of Hormuz, ensuring the right to safe navigation through international waters on vital trade corridors. We also escorted an aircraft carrier as it transited the Horn of Africa from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, on its way to the Suez Canal before continuing their return to the United States. Additionally, Swamp Fox aircraft were overhead to ensure the safe departure of coalition forces from Afghanistan. This milestone is sentimental. After completing their deployment to PSAB in 2002, the squadron would quickly turn around to begin supporting the initial fighting in Afghanistan in early 2003. We have now seen that fight come full-circle as all U.S. troops have exited.
The 169th Fighter Wing has safely deployed our aviation package of nearly 350 Airmen. Each of them has performed above and beyond the expected standard, which continues the legacy of excellence that we have inherited from our predecessors. It is also important for the entire Swamp Fox team to understand that they played a vital role in our success. We could not have completed the mission without the support of everyone that trained, prepped, packed, shipped, examined, and supplied our Airmen. Thank you for your support. That extends to our families as well. Their sacrifice is not unnoticed. We could not perform our duties here without family and friends at home that have supported us through this mission.