November 30, 2012 (by Maj. Audra Flanagan) - Nearly 300 or 30% of the Bulldogs from the 148th Fighter Wing recently returned to home station after a deployment to the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
USAF F-16C block 50 #91-0336 from the 179th FS is directed to its parking spot at the Duluth ANGB after returning from Kandahar Airfield on October 22nd, 2012 after supporting OEF. [USAF photo by TSgt. Brett R. Ewald]
While deployed, the 148th was charged with providing close air support, or protection, for ground forces serving throughout Afghanistan. In two months, the 148th flew 1,140 sorties, or flights, totaling more than 5,300 hours, which is comparable to 18 months of home-station flying. Additionally, the Bulldogs did not miss a single sortie during this period due to maintenance.
"This is nothing less than a miracle," said 179th Fighter Squadron Commander and deployed commander, Lt. Col. Christopher "SLAG" Blomquist. "Outstanding planning and workmanship allowed us to never drop a sortie in an austere environment."
The Bulldogs partnered with the 14th Fighter Squadron stationed at the 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan.
"This was the first time an active duty and guard fighter squadron deployed as a combined unit in combat in this manner," said Lt. Col. Blomquist.
A total of 400 personnel from Duluth and Misawa deployed as a cohesive unit, flying effectively and safely.
The partnership with Misawa Air Base came at an opportune time, as the 148th has been selected as an Active Associate base. As an Active Associate base, the 148th will host active duty Airmen who will fly, or work on, and train on 148th aircraft.
"The average aircraft mechanic has 17 years of experience at the 148th Fighter Wing," said Wing Vice Commander, Lt. Col. Jon Safstrom. "This experience and expertise can be passed on to young Airmen when they are stationed at Duluth in 2013."
This was the Wing's fourth large-scale Air Expeditionary Force deployment since 2005. The Bulldogs had previously deployed an aviation package to Joint Base Balad, Iraq
in 2005, 2007, and 2008 in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
"Work, living, and off-duty facilities differed greatly at Kandahar versus Balad," said weapons superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Dwayne Wuestneck.
As a result, 17 Bulldogs used their off-duty time to accomplish air force specialty code (AFSC) skill level training or professional military education (PME) tests.
Other members turned to fitness during their off-duty time. 15 Bulldogs formed the 451st Expeditionary Running Club, also known as the "Ditch Divers". This group regularly ran three, six, and eight mile increments as a way to maintain their fitness levels and build camaraderie. In typical Minnesota fashion, many Bulldogs formed a boot hockey league.
"After a few scrimmages, forces from Slovakia joined, and that formalized into a sanctioned Kandahar Hockey League," said Tech. Sgt. Kyle Lindstrom from the aircraft maintenance squadron.
"The result of this deployment was a perfectly integrated operation where everyone came home, nobody was hurt, and we maintained a perfect safety record," Blomquist concluded. "Many thanks to those who deployed, their families, and employer for a job extremely well done."
Currently the 148th has 12 members deployed to southwest Asia in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.