Air Guard Squadron Makes Mark in Operation Iraqi Freedom
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2004 The most recent deployment for the Air National Guard's 107th Fighter Squadron was one of firsts, the unit's commander said here today.
Lt. Col. Glenn Schmidt said the 107th became the first F-16 Fighting Falcon unit to be based in Iraq when it established its base in Kirkuk when it deployed for three months in February. It also was the first F-16 unit to employ the Theater Airborne Reconnaissance System, or TARS, as well as the first to employ the Litening advanced targeting pod, he added.
TARS collects intelligence information from the battlefield's second echelon and beyond, in adverse weather and all light conditions. Litening, a multipurpose targeting and navigation system, gives tactical aircraft 24-hour precision-strike capability against both land and sea-based targets.
Weapons officer Lt. Col. Nate Dickman, pilots Lt. Col. Leonard Isabelle and Maj. Brian Bracken and maintenance operations officer Maj. David Spehar joined Schmidt at the Pentagon to discuss the firsts and their mission in Iraq.
When the squadron based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich. -- got word it was being sent to Iraq, it was in the middle of close-air support training. The squadron flies mostly CAS and reconnaissance missions.
The combination of TARS and Litening allowed the group to be flexible in its mission. Not only could the F-16s help ground troops out of sticky situations, they could do reconnaissance at the same time, the officers said.
For example, Bracken said, if the unit was called upon to hit a target, the TARS pod on one F-16 would take "before" and "after" images to document exactly what kind and how much damage was done. Images taken while flying CAS missions were also used to update maps used for planning ingress and egress routes. The images were processed within 30 minutes of landing. TARS will have data-link capability for real-time imaging sometime next year, Schmidt said.
The squadron didn't have planned targets, Schmidt said. Missions were driven by need, and were mostly reactive in nature, he added.
"We quickly became (the ground troops') No. 1 go-to squadron for support," he said. "They would ask for us by name."
When the squadron was told it was being sent to Iraq, the call for volunteers went out. Schmidt said there were more volunteers than spots to be filled and there was no need to mobilize anyone. The 107th finally deployed with 280 personnel and 10 aircraft. "I didn't want to take additional people and put them in harm's way," Schmidt said. The group racked up around 3,000 flight hours in more than 800 sorties.
Spehar said that during the three-month deployment, about a year's worth of flying was logged. This required another first for an F-16 unit: heavy maintenance while deployed in a war zone.
To keep the sand from doing more damage than the repairs were doing good, the maintenance crew used hardened aircraft shelters, Spehar said. He added that Selfridge and a Air National Guard unit based in Richmond, Va. -- the only other Air Guard unit to have the TARS pods -- are constantly writing and rewriting guidelines for field maintenance.
In addition to their close air support and reconnaissance successes in Iraq, one fact made the squadron's largest deployment since the Korean War especially successful: Everyone came home.
Most of the 107th arrived home June 4. By June 10, all deployed squadron members were back in Michigan.