AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNEWS) --
The catalysts behind one of the most kinetically advanced air forces in the world can be found at the 438th Air Expeditionary Group's maintenance and fighter squadrons.
The Airmen assigned to these units employ their kinetic energy by flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II, an aircraft that provides close-air support to U.S. ground forces in Iraq.
Select A-10s are decorated with menacing eyes and razor-sharp teeth. Its primary built-in weapon is the 30-mm Gatling gun, the largest, heaviest and most powerful aircraft gun in the U.S. military. It's also equipped with air-to-ground tactical missiles and bombs.
On any given day, sorties are flown around the clock. Before one of those particular sorties, Master Sgt. Karl McKissick sits inside a large white truck performing a launch out.
"During a launch out, I ensure safety is being followed, pre-flight checks are performed correctly and communications with ops is maintained," said Sergeant McKissick, the flightline production supervisor.
In that capacity, Sergeant McKissick produces flying schedules based on air tasking orders, coordinates maintenance operations, schedules inspections and tracks supply orders.
"It's a great feeling to see the planes leave full and come back empty," he said. "All the preparation and maintenance performed on the aircraft help (the pilots) drop the bombs on target."
Three Airmen who directly contribute to that phrase are members of the avionics, crew chief and weapons team.
"I'm responsible for maintaining the different avionic systems and troubleshooting any problems," said Staff Sgt. Mark Fesperman, an A-10 avionics specialist.
As an A-10 crew chief, Staff Sgt. Derrick Dodd is the overall caretaker of aircraft. He conducts aircraft inspections and services the hydraulic and airframe work.
"We also ensure the aircraft is ready for the weapons specialists to perform their work," Sergeant Dodd said.
"I load, maintain and inspect anything that has to do with the weapons system on the aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Booze, the A-10 weapons load team chief.
These three craftsmen work together to keep the A-10s ready to fight the war on terrorism.
"I enjoy seeing the avionics system video working together with the weapons system that allows the bombs to be dropped," Sergeant Fesperman said.
"It's very impressive to see all the hard work the shops put on the aging aircraft. The fact that we've yet to miss a sortie and we're always able to deliver our bombs is great," Sergeant Dodd said.
For weapons load professionals, their work is paid off when they see a plane come back empty, meaning the pilot used all the weapons that were attached to the plane at the beginning of the mission.
"I think it's more rewarding for us to know a plane comes back empty," Sergeant Booze said. "We train so hard loading bombs back home and now that training pays off because we're doing it for real here."
One A-10 pilot who relies on the work done by the professionals on the flightline is Capt. Matt Vedder.
"I stay focused and ensure we're supporting the guys on the ground to the best of our abilities," the captain said. "I make sure we're doing the job right and keeping the ground forces safe. This is, without a doubt, a complete team effort. There is no way any of us could do this job without the support from every single individual on the line. The mission's success is a clear reflection on them."
As an American Airman, Captain Vedder said he realizes the importance of his charge.
"We're trying to keep Iraqi citizens safe," he said. "If we can protect them from enemy threats and help them live a good life, then I've done my job and that's one of the reasons I joined the Air Force."
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