BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) --
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs continue taking the fight to the enemy by providing close air support to U.S. and coalition forces participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Shortly after deploying in September to this base at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains from Davis-Monthan Air Base, Ariz., the 354th Fighter Squadron “Bulldogs” began making history.
“Our A-10s have provided non-stop presence and lethal firepower since we arrived,” said the squadron commander Lt. Col. Martha McSally. “From ensuring the success of Afghanistan’s first-ever provincial elections on Sept. 18 to the first seating of an Afghan national parliament in history on Dec. 19, we are continuing to make a footprint on the world around us.”
The Bulldogs have succeeded in defeating enemy combatants because of their detailed integration with coalition ground forces.
“Throughout this AEF rotation, we’ve integrated with conventional and special ops battlefield warfighters to seek out and destroy remaining pockets of Taliban, terrorist and anti-coalition militia,” Colonel McSally said. “This integration has helped save hundreds of U. S. and coalition lives and ensured a safe and successful election process.”
Since Sept. 15, the Bulldogs have flown more than 1,700 combat sorties, totaling more than 6,000 combat hours, and fired more than 20,000 rounds of 30 mm bullets.
“(The) 30 mm (cannon) is the weapon of choice for A-10 pilots in providing pinpoint accuracy against the enemy with ‘friendlies’ or civilians unharmed sometimes less than 100 meters away,” the colonel said.
The pilots have also used laser-guided bombs, airburst freefall bombs and high-explosive rockets to demolish enemy forces. On more than 100 occasions, A-10 pilots worked with friendly forces in direct contact with the enemy.
“Our pilots have had to integrate with forces on the ground to neutralize the targets,” the colonel said. “It takes a great deal of skill and judgment to swiftly identify friendly and enemy positions in a very fluid fight and deliver ordnance in such close proximity to the friendlies.”
Close air support isn’t the only thing the A-10s provide. The Bulldogs have also been first on scene at several coalition helicopters crashes. Pilots provided cover to deter hostile forces and, sometimes, immediate firepower for those needing a more compelling effort to defeat their hostile action.
“Uniquely trained to take on the role of rescue mission commander, the A-10s have deconflicted all supporting assets, provided command and control in very dynamic situations,” Colonel McSally said. “We then coordinated for rescue/medevac, provided lethal coverage overhead against the threat, and escorted rescue assets to safety, saving dozens of U.S. and coalition lives.
The colonel said the A-10 pilots have also provided escort and presence for movement of friendly convoys, helicopters and cargo aircraft, which sometimes carry high-level Afghan and U.S. leaders, or vital earthquake relief into Pakistan.
Two recently certified A-10 flight leads said protecting friendly forces from those who would cause them harm is a key emphasis for A-10 pilots.
“After dropping a 500-pound bomb or firing 500 rounds of 30 mm high-explosive incendiary bullets, it’s a good feeling knowing our forces were no longer taking fire,” said A-10 pilot Capt. Dan Cruz.
Captain Cruz said using weapons in combat has been the highlight his A-10 flying experience. The “Hog”, as Airmen call the jet, was the first Air Force aircraft specially designed to provide close air support.
“Knowing that friendly forces on the ground were actively taking fire and the need for us to rapidly employ weapons to protect them has been intense and exhilarating,” said Captain Cruz, who is from Glendale, Ariz.
When conducting close-air-support missions, the captain said there’s little room for error.
“The training I’ve received over the years has instilled the importance of quickly determining all friendly locations before employing weapons,” he said. “With the friendlies factored in, it’s simply a choice of what weapon to use that will achieve the desired weapons effects.”
Capt. Jay Annis, another A-10 pilot, said he takes pride in what he’s doing to support the ongoing global war on terrorism.
“I’ve been given the skills and confidence necessary to perform our A-10 mission in combat,” said Captain Annis, who is from Chanhassen, Minn. “I’m proud to be able to provide my piece of the puzzle -- taking the heat off of our brothers who are taking the fight to the enemy on the ground.”
Colonel McSally said her Airmen should be proud of their accomplishments.
“We’ve set a new aerospace standard in unforgiving conditions,” she said. “A truly amazing precedent has been set. And each and every Bulldog should be proud of a job well done.”