March 2, 2009 (by SSgt. Rachel Martinez) - Pilots from the 14th Fighter Squadron flew their F-16 Fighting Falcons to Misawa Air Base Feb. 27 after a five-month deployment to Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
USAF F-16C block 50 #91-0382 from the 13th FS, piloted by Capt. Andrew Gilmer, 14th FS, powers down on February 27th, 2009 at Misawa AB. Captain Gilmer's wife Sharron waited off to the side of the jet with other friends and family to greet him at the plane.
While deployed, the 14th FS
provided armed overwatch for coalition forces and the people of Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Our deployment has been challenging in many ways as the nature of Operation Iraqi Freedom evolves," said Lt. Col. Shane Riza, 14th FS
commander. "We were fully prepared for full-scale combat operations when we arrived, but due to the successes of the current strategy and the ability of the Iraqi forces, we've seen a significant decrease in the need for weapons employment as the overall level of violence in the country has gone down."
During their time in Iraq, the 14th FS flew more than 2,000 sorties and nearly 7,000 combat hours. Not a single jet was lost due to maintenance issues thanks to the hard work and skills of the 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
"Our maintainers, aircrew flight equipment, aviation resource managers, and intelligence shops have done an outstanding job supporting the combat flying operations," Colonel Riza said. "Samurai Maintenance has stepped up every time I've asked them to and surged to fill sorties during critical times."
After arriving in theater short of 25 percent of their jets, the 14th AMU stepped up sortie generation to ensure there was proper air coverage for troops on the ground. Additionally, Airmen in the intelligence shop played a pivotal role, to include finding, tracking, engaging and assessing the enemy.
"They reached out through secure protocol technologies to gain valuable feedback from the joint terminal air controllers we work with every day," Colonel Riza said. "With that information we are better able to alter our tactics and techniques to provide the discreet and time-sensitive information the ground commander needs. It made us a better fighting force all around."
The 14th Fighter Squadron's time in Iraq will likely be remembered as a turning point in the life of a new democracy, according to Colonel Riza. Their time spanned an overall reduction in violence, the approval of the Status of Forces Agreement, the ceding of some regional and airspace control, and a national election.
"I watched through the optics of an advanced targeting pod as Iraqis walked to the polls on election day to cast a vote," Colonel Riza explained. "They did so in the face of danger. They did so despite a mortal threat, some going at different times than loved ones so entire families would not be wiped out in a single terrorist act. Almost every eligible citizen voted and dipped their finger in the now symbolic indelible purple ink. They did so, in the end, without widespread violence or any mass casualties. It was the beginning in Iraq for something many of us take for granted -- the right and satisfaction of self-determination. We were here during historic times, and someday I hope we will be able to look back and think we had some small part in this success."
According to Colonel Riza, intense pre-deployment training prepared the Airmen of the 14th FS for what they would face in Iraq.
"All of our Airmen were perfectly prepped, physically and mentally, for the rigor of the AEF
," Colonel Riza added. "Because of that individual commitment to duty, we've excelled as a team and leave this theater a more cohesive squadron overall."