August 13, 2012 (by TSgt. Scott G. Herrington) - The 148th Fighter Wing deployed approximately 300 members to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan over the period of August 5th-11th in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
USAF F-16C block 50 #96-0082 from the 179th FS taxis after landing at Kandahar Airfield on August 13th, 2012. Personnel are deployed from the 148th FW in support of OEF. [USAF photo by TSgt. Stephen Hudson]
The two month deployment marks the 148th's first mission with the block 50
F-16, as well as the first aviation package deployment to Afghanistan.
"The 148th Fighter Wing has recently completed an intense, focused training program designed to prepare them for assigned operations while in Afghanistan," said 148th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Frank Stokes. "This training included all requirements leveled from the combatant command, as well as abilities specific to the mission they expect to perform. The Bulldogs are the most prepared, best equipped, and most highly trained unit I have ever had the privilege to witness. They will undoubtedly carry the legacy of the Minnesota National Guard forward for the region's commanders to take notice."
The Bulldogs are slated to provide Close Air Support (CAS
), which entails protecting coalition ground forces. According to Safstrom, the pilots and aircraft support personnel have undergone intense training focused on CAS for the past six months, which he believes has put the Bulldogs in a position to succeed.
"They're ready," said 148th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Lt. Col. Jon Safstrom. "I have every confidence in the Bulldogs ability to perform the mission. They will arrive in Afghanistan ready to perform for the ground commanders fully trained and full of professionalism."
The aviation package, which has deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, 2007 and 2008, consists of aircraft, pilots, aircraft maintenance personnel, and support personnel. Most personnel will deploy for two months.
The 148th began the conversion process to the Block 50 F-16 in April 2010, and declared the conversion completed April 1, 2012. The conversion required pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel to attend formal training in addition to simulations and on the job training. Aircraft maintenance personnel performed 18,495 hours of acceptance inspections on the Block 50 aircraft upon receiving the jets.
"I feel this unit has consistently proven we can accomplish any mission or tasking we receive," said 148th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Mark Rukavina. "I think this deployment is no different. We have outstanding people to fill key leadership roles and all members are committed to do the best job possible. We have already seen this as the members have prepared to deploy. From all the maintenance personnel getting the jets ready, pilots getting qualified and trained, and the support personnel making sure every deployer and family has all necessary items, it is truly a team effort."
The Bulldogs deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. three times for advanced aerial combat training exercises in 2011 and 2012, culminating in the Feb. to Mar. 2012 Red Flag exercise, where the Bulldogs' Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) capability was tested and evaluated.
"I think they will once again prove that we can get the mission done," said Rukavina.