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Combat vets wage public-info campaign

WASHINGTON -- Four Air Force combat veterans began a new campaign March 27 -- informing the public of the Air Force's role in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The airmen -- three aircrew members and a combat controller -- spoke to reporters from across the nation in a television studio here on topics including the latest technology, flying combat sorties and feelings about anti-war protesters.

The interviews were "a little grueling, but it's something we need to do," said Maj. John Ritter, a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle pilot who flew the B-52 Stratofortress during Operation Desert Storm. "The American people need to know about the men and women in the Air Force and the work and sacrifices they're enduring."

The Air Force began the "satellite media tours" in an effort to communicate directly to the American public, said Brig. Gen. Tim White, mobilization assistant to the Air Force's director of public affairs.

"By going out to local stations across the country, we can tell the Air Force story without waiting for the networks to come to us," White said.

The other airmen included Maj. Jack Sine, an F-16CJ Fighting Falcon pilot; Maj. Mike Pietrucha, an F-15E Strike Eagle weapons systems operator; and Tech. Sgt. Calvin Markham, a combat controller. They provided insight to the American public through more than four hours of live and taped interviews.

"The cumulative audience for our satellite media tour was far larger than a single story on one of the cable news networks, and the stations really appreciated the chance to deal with Air Force people one-on-one," said White, whose civilian job is as news anchor on a Cleveland television station.

"I can't tell you how important informing the public is -- less than 5 percent of Americans (younger than 75) have served in uniform," White said.

While the participating TV and radio stations were located in all parts of the country, Pietrucha managed to be interviewed by two stations he has personal ties with - a station in Sacramento, Calif., where his parents live, and another near Pennsylvania State University, where he went to college.

Among the "sound bites" the four provided the public:

-- "It makes me feel great because, largely, that's what this country is about - the freedom to express your opinion," Pietrucha said about anti-war protesters. "The fact is, my comrades in uniform and I, throughout history, have been willing to fight, and if necessary, die to protect those ideals for Americans."

-- "What I'm able to do with this airplane is 'park' it in an orbit (around) a target area," Ritter said, describing the Predator. "It allows me to be like the guy who crashes a party and never leaves."

-- "We give a 'ground truth' by picking out targets on the ground," Markham said, describing the combat controller's mission. "The weapons are so good we can put bombs through the (mouths) of caves, through the doors of buildings and on top of artillery positions. They are dead-accurate."

-- "The Air Force has already gained air dominance," Sine said. "That means that (we) own the air. Not a single Iraqi aircraft has taken off."

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