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Maintainers unleash wave of B-52s

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- More than 70 aircraft maintainers worked earnestly through the early morning March 21 to unleash the first wave of B-52 bombers on the Iraqi regime from this forward-deployed location.

Later in the day they watched with the rest of the world as their "Buffs" delivered what would come to be regarded with "shock and awe."

Maintainers prepared for combat operations beginning Thursday, but things got critical on the tarmac in the final hours before the launch. Motivated crew chiefs and specialists readied the 457th Air Expeditionary Group's lineup of B-52s Friday morning.

"They're excited," said Master Sgt. Tina Marie Schneider, the night-shift maintenance flight chief for the 5th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron here. "The guys were all geared up to do their inspections and hand the aircraft over to the day shift." They knew the day shift would soon launch the group's first combat sorties of the war.

Over the previous 24 hours, the aircraft had all systems checked and rechecked, Schneider explained. The lineup of B-52s had to go no matter what. To launch aircraft safely and effectively, crews also generated backup aircraft. The primary and backup war birds were simultaneously pre-flighted March 21 as aircrews and maintainers toiled toward the takeoff time.

"They have go and no-go systems," Schneider said. "If a problem's not critical, they may choose to go with it. If it's not something they can go with, they have another aircraft in the lineup to take its place."

Though many members of the deployed unit are combat seasoned from duty for operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, they were by no means unaffected by the impact of their mission Friday.

"I tell you, I've been in for seven years and I've never been so excited about a launch," said Simmons, a veteran of both previous conflicts.

After the aircraft launched, steady work continued as the bombers removed from the lineup were brought online. Other Buffs were pre-flighted for future sorties.

Later in the day, a crowd gathered in front of televisions in the squadron's break areas as the much-anticipated campaign of "shock and awe" unfolded. The crowd knew many aircraft and hundreds of sorties were being directed at the Iraqi regime Friday. As the ferocity of the attacks increased, the maintainers knew their Buffs were making an impact.

"To see the results was unbelievable," Simmons said. "You're working hard and training everyday to achieve the kind of success we had today. It was an unbelievable feeling."

Many members of the deployed unit anticipated the operations. They were eagerly awaiting the call before the deployment even began, Schneider said. It all came together March 21.

"I don't think there was a bit of space in either break room as we watched the action unfold," said maintenance commander Lt. Col. Danny Curtis. "It was a total team effort with all these specialists working in synch from the bomb loaders to the crew chiefs. This morning we pulled it off - success."

As midnight on the day of the first launches passed, the night shift received the returning aircraft with their triumphant crews.

"Based on what we learn from the aircrews, we'll know what we have to take care of and everything will be played out from there," Curtis said.

With the Iraqi regime still absorbing the impact of the U.S. military's deadly precision, a new set of aircraft sat on the tarmac, ready to go.

Engage

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