Staff Sgt. Christopher Willis
An Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, April 26, 2013. The A-10 is a specialized ground-attack aircraft which provides close air support to ground forces operating in Afghanistan.
It could be the roar the engine makes as it soars above the battleground scattering enemy activity from the fight or when its rugged body loaded with a high-tech weapons system delivers an aerial arsenal, but whatever the reason, the A-10 fighter aircraft is loved by battlefield service members.
The A-10 Thunderbolt IIs deployed to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing have already seen countless combat hours in the skies above Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Their mission is to provide close air support and precision engagement throughout the area of responsibility in support of U.S. and Coalition ground forces.
Service members like U.S. Army Special Forces Capt. Tim have witnessed firsthand the awesome power the A-10 can bring to the fight. A few weeks into their deployment, his unit came under an ambush.
“We were in a 40-hour fire fight, during the peak of the fighting season; we needed air support and called in an A-10 to do a kinetic strike,” said the captain. “The A-10 came to our rescue, engaged the enemies and saved our lives.”
Because the aircraft can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate in low visibility conditions, the A-10 is ideal for supporting troops fighting in the harsh Afghan terrain. With a wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability, the A-10 can operate in and out of locations near the front lines.
“When I see or hear the A-10, I get extremely frustrated because that means the enemy can see and hear them too and they are going to run away,” said Capt. Tim, a green beret, with a smile on his face. “The enemy knows with the A-10 in the skies above, it’s game over.”
The arsenal the aircraft can bring to the fight is only matched by the engineering lethality of each of its loaded ammunitions. The aircraft can deploy general purpose bombs, cluster bomb units, laser guided bombs, joint direct attack munitions, wind corrected munitions dispenser, AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, rockets, illumination flares, and the GAU-8/A 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute just to name a few.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Jeffers, a weapons standardization section load chief, is proud of his role in supplying the ammo dropped by the A-10.
“Loading your first bombs and then you get to hear about the mission and how you affected the total effort on Operation Enduring Freedom, it’s nice to have a small role in that,” he said.
For A-10 pilots like Brig. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella Jr., 455th AEW commander, the aircraft’s capabilities and fire power are some of the greatest in the Air Force arsenal.
“We can deploy a ‘party mix’ of ordinance, giving the ground commander flexibility in what they need,” said Guastella. “Anything from rockets, bombs or the gun, whatever they need down on the ground we can deploy.”
Additionally the aircraft is equipped with Night Vision Goggles and an Infrared strobe making it possible for the pilots to conduct their missions in complete darkness.
“The ability to fly with NVG’s is incredibly valuable to allow us to see as much as we can and affect the battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Mike McVay, 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot. “The IR strobe and screen allows us to view the target and turn night into day.”
As the aircraft flies low and close to the battle, the pilots are protected by titanium armor and reinforced structural sections, which allows the aircraft to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles.
“A couple of weeks ago, American troops were taking fire from a ridgeline and our flight was told to go in. We rolled in and shot 1,200 rounds in about three minutes from the Gatling gun,” said McVay. “It was an awesome experience to shoot the gun and hear “Good Hits” from the joint terminal air controllers on the ground.”
Flying the reliable and lethal A-10 allows pilots like Guastella and McVay to continue doing what they are not only trained to do, but also love to do – supporting the troops on the ground.
“Dropping ordnance in direct support of our ground forces is the most rewarding part of the flying,” said Guastella. “The ground component loves the A-10, and it’s good to be loved.”
For almost four decades, the A-10 has provided service members that warm feeling of comfort as it rips through the airspace guarding the skies above, but more importantly, protecting the troops below.