Active-Duty, Reserve Troops Combine Air Power in Afghanistan
By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2004 In Afghanistan, Air Force Reserve and active-duty pilots have teamed together to protect U.S. and coalition forces from attackers whose aim is to disrupt national stability and to prevent infrastructure improvements, including the building of wells, schools and roads.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Jay Marshall, 81st Expeditionary
Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, guides an A-10 Thunderbolt II down
the runway for takeoff Oct. 13. Air Force photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Fulfilling such missions requires 24-hour operations and live munitions, but pilots and operations-support personnel from the 81st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed here say that's the only difference between serving at Bagram Air Base and at their home stations.
"We train like we fight, so we're ready for contingencies like this," said Air Force Capt. Travis, an 81st EFS pilot deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Air Force officials omitted the last names of pilots for security reasons.
Throughout the year, Spangdahlem pilots practice aerial tactics and communications skills at NATO and joint-service exercises, which prepare the active-duty airmen for sister-service and coalition-force teamwork. Air Force reservists also practice in such exercises and some serve as full-time reservists or pilots in their civilian jobs, ensuring there is plenty of experience sitting in the A-10 Thunderbolt II cockpits.
"The reservist and active-duty mix here has well exceeded my expectations," said Air Force Lt. Col. John, 81st EFS commander. "Once we all got here, we went straight to work. Here we support a lot of customers at the table, working mostly with the Army, escorting convoys and providing Afghan presidential escort, and defending the troops as needed."
Working 24-hour ops means pulling 12-plus-hour shifts, leaving little personal time. This can result in "Groundhog Day" syndrome -- doing the same thing day in and day out -- which can wear on morale, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Rebecca Nye, squadron operations desk technician.
Here, however, to stave off the feeling of dj vu, pilots, "ops desk" technicians, maintainers and ground troops make the time to visit each others' shops for some face-to-face time with the people they're supporting.
"There's a lot of satisfaction in knowing we're helping the guys on the ground," said Travis. "When we get together, we'll share our side of the story, which helps us gain a perspective of what the other guy sees and share lessons learned. This kind of face-to-face interaction only helps us to get better."
Because the 81st EFS pilots have trained as they fight, communicating with and providing cover for ground troops is the pilots' No. 1 focus.
"We don't have to think about flying because it's second nature to us," said Travis. "Our entire focus is on communicating with the combat controller (who travels with the ground troops), who tells us where our friendly forces are, the order of battle on the ground, and where to employ our munitions."
When pilots here pair up to head out for a combat mission, the only factor taken into consideration is experience, said Lt. Col. Ozzie, 81st EFS deputy operations officer. Often it's a more experienced active-duty or reserve pilot with another pilot who needs more time in the aircraft to increase his qualifications.
The teamwork involved in "keeping the A-10s in the air" helps keep the energy high and mission accomplishment uppermost in the minds of the airmen, said Col. John, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.
"I am extremely impressed with the way the two squadrons have melded in both operations and maintenance," said the colonel. "It is impossible to tell which unit a person is from unless you ask them. They have come together here without working together prior to the deployment and formed a single, lethal airpower team.
"It's a validation of the great leadership and NCO cadre in both the reserve and active component," he said.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey is assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.)