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Experience levels vary in Operation Iraqi Freedom

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM - Senior Airman Danny Newland tows an F-16 Fighting Falcon at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM - Senior Airman Danny Newland tows an F-16 Fighting Falcon at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Staff Sgt. David Ross (left) and Airman 1st Class Eduardo Sera attach fins to a missile for an F-16 Fighting Falcon at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Staff Sgt. David Ross (left) and Airman 1st Class Eduardo Sera attach fins to a missile for an F-16 Fighting Falcon at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Airman 1st Class Michael Gucciardi drives the jammer while Staff Sgt. David Ross gives hand signals indicating which direction to move the missile while loading on a F-16CJ at a forward deployed location in Southwest Asia.(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Airman 1st Class Michael Gucciardi drives the jammer while Staff Sgt. David Ross gives hand signals indicating which direction to move the missile while loading on a F-16CJ at a forward deployed location in Southwest Asia.(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins)

WASHINGTON -- The level of experience of Air Force members currently deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia runs the gamut, from battle-tested veteran to bright-eyed teenager.

But whether they are new to the game or have seen it all before, the mission must go on.

Maj. Scott Lambe, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the South Carolina Air National Guard, has been flying F-16 aircraft for 11 years. He has been to SWA before and says that in terms of what the Iraqis are dishing up for F-16 pilots in Operation Iraqi Freedom, not much has changed.

"This is the same type of stuff we have seen before," Lambe said during a teleconference with reporters here March 28. "We are taking fire from the people below, but our group has a lot of experience with this so we keep everything in perspective. We are just working hard to keep our guys safe and to support the guys on the ground."

Lambe's mission is the suppression of enemy air defenses. In order to clear a safe flight path for other aircraft, he uses the weapons aboard the F-16CJ aircraft to take out enemy surface-to-air missile sites. He said in the last 11 years, he has seen a lot of changes in the tools available to him to perform his mission.

"Back then, we were going after surface-to-air sights with basically dumb bombs," Lambe said. "We were basically looking through our heads-up display to drop the bomb. We've had quite a few improvements.

"Now, our airplane is a jack-of-all-trades," he said. "We carry the high-speed anti-radiation missile. Any surface-to-air radar that comes up, we are able to target them (and) suppress them to keep them from targeting our strike package. We are also using the Global Positioning System-guided weapons -- the joint defense attack munitions -- which give us the ability to do precise strikes based on coordinates given to us. There is a tremendous amount of capability with the airplane to do all the roles -- to do escort, to strike targets on the ground and to do the air-to-air mission, should that come up."

To date, there has been no need for the air-to-air mission over Iraq. Iraqi air forces have yet to launch any aircraft against coalition aircraft; however, that fact does not keep Lambe from remaining cautious.

"They have had a lot of years looking at us and to learn from us," Lambe said. "Whether they are getting smarter or not, we give them the benefit of the doubt. They may still have a lot they haven't shown us yet."

While the major is apt to directly engage enemy forces on any given day, Airman 1st Class Shannon Murphy is more likely to view the action from a distance. The 19-year-old native of Washington state works in the wing's command post, fielding messages passed through on the effort against the Iraqi regime.

"We are the focal point for the commanders," Murphy said during the same teleconference. "We are the first to know if something is coming our way, and we are the first to get word out to the base."

Except for the familiarity with her job that she brought with her, everything she sees in SWA is new to her. When Operation Desert Shield began in 1991, she was 9 years old.

"This is my first deployment and essentially (the) first war that I can really remember," she said.

Despite the newness of it all, and the horrors and realities associated with war, the airman is able to keep it all in perspective.

"My job is not difficult, but it requires quick reaction," Murphy said. "This is very real over here, and very different. But it is a good experience."

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