February 14, 2012 (by SrA Daniel Phelps) - The primary role of the 20th Fighter Wing's F-16 Fighting Falcons is the suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses. During Operation Unified Protector (OUP), they supported NATO by protecting assets through finding and eliminating anything that could take out coalition aircraft.
A USAF F-16 from the 20th FW, equipped with a PDU-5 leaflet bomb, patrols the sky over Libya during Operation Unified Protector. The 20th FW had the unique role of dropping leaflets to give NATO messages for the safety of Libyan civilians. [USAF photo]
However, they also had another role in OUP. The 20th FW dropped more than 40 product dispenser unit-5s containing more than 50,000 leaflets each, contributing to NATO
's psychological operations.
"We were heavily engaged in the psyops game," said Lt. Col. Johnny Vargas, 77th Fighter Squadron commander. "We would watch CNN and see people holding up the leaflets dropped by us that caused some of the Libyan regime fighters to defect."
The leaflets had another goal beyond defection.
"This showed we were also concerned with preserving lives," said Senior Master Sgt. Delbert Areford, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent. "We let the civilians know we were coming in so they could get out of the way."
Involvement with the PDU-5s was a rare experience for all of those involved, from building to dropping them.
"Leaflet bombs have been dropped by F-16s before," said Col. Charlie Moore, 20th Fighter Wing commander. "But none of our pilots currently here have ever dropped them before. It was a unique thing trying to figure out how to do it; making, loading and dropping them."
Staff Sgt. Brian Beaty, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions flight, was the Shaw lead on building the PDUs.
"It was a pretty incredible experience putting them together," he said. "Not many people in the Air Force have gotten this opportunity."
The PDU is based on the idea of cluster bombs, Beaty explained. A box inside would peel open like a banana, then the leaflets come out and float to the ground.
"There's very little explosion to it," he said.
The process to making a PDU was long and sometimes stressful, Beaty said. It took about three hours to do it with a six-man team. The hardest part was rolling the leaflets because there were so many and it took awhile.
"We'd have leaflet parties where a bunch of us would get together and roll them," he added.
Many times someone would almost finish a roll, and then it would burst open, Beaty described while laughing. Or, someone would stand up to pick up and move a roll, wouldn't have it tight enough and it would all come apart.
"There was an art to it," he added. "I never saw anyone get it right the first time. It was stressful, but it gave us some good laughs."
After rolling the leaflets, they'd pull the fin kit off the back of the PDU and put about 20 rolls into the container.
We rolled whatever lot NATO needed and got in as many that we needed to fill or build, Beaty added.
The munitions troops worked around the clock in three separate shifts to ensure everything was always ready for the jets heading out.
"We always had everything prepped for the jets before they were ready to go," Beaty continued. "It was stressful, but it was a good feeling knowing what we were doing was for such a great cause."
The story of the 20th FW's role in OUP is a story of success based on team work, Moore said. Individuals from every group in the wing contributed to it.
"Everyone was there to complete the mission," said Lt. Col. Michael Schnabel, 55th Fighter Squadron commander. "Being a part of something to remove a tyrant from killing his people is a noble cause. I believe everyone there was proud of that."
"The success of the 20th FW in OUP was superb," Moore exclaimed. "A war broke out and the unique capabilities of the U.S. Air Force were needed, and we knocked it out of the park. They came and asked for the best to do it, and we sent the best."
This is part four of a four-part series on the 20th Fighter Wing's role in Operation Unified Protector.