BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan: The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing surpassed a milestone after two fighter squadrons deployed here accumulated more than 5,000 combat flight hours in a single month.
Aircrews flying A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and F-15E Strike Eagles from the 336th EFS accomplished the feat in May while providing close-air support and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for American and coalition ground troops throughout Afghanistan.
For Col. Raymond Strasburger, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, and Col. Dave Blanks, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander, the accomplishment couldn’t come at a better time as both prepare for their final week at Bagram before their respective change of command ceremonies.
“I can’t begin to tell you how proud we are of our combined maintenance and operations team,” said Colonel Blanks, a 23-year aircraft maintenance veteran. “Both units flew more hours in a single month than any previous fighter squadron deployed here. Five thousand combat flight hours in one month is unprecedented and represents approximately five or six months worth of flying back in the states.”
For the 336th EFS, the milestone caps off the unit’s first month in country.
“For the (366th) to accomplish this in their first month here is particularly impressive because the maintainers, pilots, weapon system operators and, more importantly, the jets have to get acclimated,” Colonel Blanks said. “They’re adjusting to the environment and using a number of the systems on the aircraft differently than they do at home station.”
On the flip side, Colonel Strasburger said the Airmen in the 74th EFS mastered the challenge of keeping their A-10 aircraft mission-ready despite nine months of wear and tear in a combat zone. Before they arrived in March, Airmen in their sister squadron, the 75th EFS, logged more than 10,000 flight hours over a six-month deployment. Together, the two A-10 squadrons, deployed from the 23rd Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., have logged more than 18,000 combat flight hours in nine months.
Since the two colonels took command last summer, the wing has missed only one air tasking order line out of more than 11,000 close-air-support sorties generated.
“I have never seen a work relationship between the operations group and maintenance group like this,” Colonel Strasburger, a 25-year veteran A-10 pilot, said of the competitive relationship that typically exists between the two groups at home stations. “No matter what the challenge, our combined teams rolled up their sleeves, worked together and found a way to make things happen because they knew what was at stake: safeguarding America’s and our coalition partners’ sons and daughters.”
As more American and coalition ground troops deploy ahead of the Afghanistan’s scheduled elections in August and the demand for air support steadily increases, Colonel Strasburger said the maintenance and operations team will continue to do whatever it takes to protect “the 18-year-old warriors on the ground.”
“Our guys are out there making it happen, working long hours and sometimes under less than optimal conditions without a complaint,” he said. “It’s a 24-hours a day, seven-days a week operation and we never stop because there’s always someone out there with (his or her) life on the line who’s depending on us.”