February 9, 2008 (by Scott Schonauer) - After dropping a near record number of bombs in Iraq, members of the 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron returned to their home base in Spangdahlem this week.
USAF F-16C block 50 #92-3915 from the 23rd FS lands on January 3rd, 2007. The 22nd EFS flew missions daily in support of OIF.
The bulk of the nearly 300 pilots and support personnel arrived Friday after a four-month deployment to Balad Air Base.
Pilots flew more than 1,600 sorties and dropped more than 60,000 pounds of ordnance, said the 22nd commander, Lt. Col. Matt Chesnutt. The squadron came only a few bombs shy of setting a record for the block 50
version of the F-16, the fighter jet the unit flies. But more important than the number of bombs dropped, Chesnutt said pilots hit their targets and used them only when needed.
"I was very pleased with our performance," he said. "We didn’t kill anybody we didn’t want to kill, and we didn’t destroy anything we didn’t want to destroy."
During the deployment, the 22nd took part in Operation Phantom Phoenix, a major offensive in January against al-Qaida insurgents in the Diyala province. According to the squadron, it was the largest airstrike by the U.S. since the "shock and awe" bombing in 2003.
The squadron deployed to Iraq with the main mission of supporting the troops on the ground by providing close air support and helping hunt down deadly roadside bombs. The unit returned to Germany able to boast that no U.S. troops lost their lives while the 22nd pilots flew overhead.
But there were some close calls, Chesnutt said. On one mission, pilots could hear the bullets hitting the wall behind the ground controller calling in air support. One squadron pilot strafed insurgents with coalition forces fewer than 50 meters away.
A pair of pilots — Capt. Travis Keenan and Capt. Kelii Chock — are credited with helping save a special-operations team under attack by suppressing enemy fire and allowing enough time for a guided-bomb to take out the target.
On another day, a 22nd pilot worked with the ground controller for an hour to figure out a way to bomb a weapons cache at a home in a dense area, Chesnutt said. The pilot hit the target without doing any additional damage to the surrounding area, but it flushed people in the neighborhood out of their homes and into the streets. Apache helicopters were poised to take out the terrorists that came out of one of the homes, but the pilot noticed innocent civilians close by. He quickly called off the strike to avoid a large number of innocent casualties.
"I thought that right there was great airmanship," Chesnutt said.
Members of the squadron must now go through a two-day reintegration program before taking two weeks of leave. But at the end of the month, they will all return to work and flying.
Although pilots come back to Germany with considerable combat experience, Chesnutt said they will have to brush up on their air-to-air skills — which they did not have to use in Iraq.