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Misawa squadrons swap out Iraqi mission

June 3, 2007 (by 1st Lt. Shannon Collins) - Two F-16CJs track a pair of vehicles full of known Al Qaeda insurgents. The vehicles stop at a location free of collateral damage, and command makes the decision. The fighters drop precision guided munitions and destroy the vehicles.

F-16C block 50 #92-3897 from the 13th EFS follows an F-16C from its sister squadron, the 14th EFS, toward the flightline for a combat mission May 30th.

It's another successful mission to improve the security situation so the Iraqi people can make the choices and do the work necessary to build a secure, stable and self-governing nation.

This is just one of the many successful missions one Misawa fighter squadron performed while deployed here. Now, they're passing the torch.

More than 260 pilots, maintainers and support personnel from the 13th Fighter Squadron and 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Misawa Air Base, Japan, arrived here May 29 and 30 to trade out with its sister squadron, the 14th FS, as part of air expeditionary force 7 and 8.

The mission for these squadrons is the Balad block 50 F-16CJ operations. Normally, their primary mission is Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, wherein they protect other aircraft from surface-to-air missiles using high speed anti-radiation missiles and conventional bombs. They protect themselves and friendly aircraft from enemy aircraft with advanced air-to-air radar and avionics systems.

Though the pilots maintain the capability to re-role to that mission here in U.S. Central Command at a moment's notice, they are now employing in the Close Air Support role with the advanced targeting pods. The squadrons took on the challenge in stride.

"Both squadrons had to undergo a rigorous four- to five-month spin up program to be ready for the deployment," said Lt. Col. Charles Toplikar, 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. "Our success in the transition has been phenomenal."

Throughout the deployment for AEF 5 and 6, the 14th EFS Airmen flew about 1,400 sorties and about 5,800 hours throughout the area of responsibility. They employed ordnance against enemy forces 46 times and provided support to ground forces operations by "show of force" and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Show of force can be dropping flares to let insurgents know fighter aircraft were nearby. These instances mainly aided ground forces when they were receiving small arms fire from insurgents.

Though the CAS mission is new to the squadron, being in Iraq isn't.

"We were the first non-stealth aircraft over Baghdad on day one of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003," Colonel Toplikar said.

This is the first time since then that any of the 35th Fighter Wing fighter squadrons has deployed to a combat operation due to their commitments in the Pacific Theater.

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native said he is proud of his Airmen and their role in the War on Terror.

"Both my fighter squadron and the supporting aircraft maintenance units Airmen are very young, with less than 15 percent having ever deployed to a combat environment," he said. "We trained hard for more than four months, focusing on our new mission. Our performance has been spectacular. Everyone, from the youngest Airman up, has risen to every challenge - mud, mortars, dust and more. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished here in the Global War on Terrorism."

The 14th EFS sister squadron, the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is ready for the upcoming challenge, said Lt Col. Steve Williams, 13th EFS commander.

"We've been working hard to train for this challenge, and now it's time to put our training to the test," the Midland, Mich., native said. "Our team building has been ongoing for many months because a successful mission relies on Airmen from every career field -- weapons crews, avionic techs, fuels, life support, intelligence, controllers, maintainers and pilots.

"I'm confident our team will accomplish any [Combined Forces Air Component Commander] tasking with success and professionalism," he said. "When the time comes to depart the AOR, we'll have witnessed the many contributions Airmen from throughout the Air Force provide in support of the war on terror. But right now, we're focused on the challenge and appreciate the opportunity to support our nation's calling and continue the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen."

Courtesy 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

A Misawa Airman marshals in USAF F-16C block 50 #90-0808 from the 14th EFS at Balad after returning from a mission in Iraq on February 7th, 2007. [USAF photo]

Capt. William Lutmer climbs into an F-16 while Senior Airman Skylar Mims assists him on January 29th at Balad AB. Captain Lutmer is deployed to the 332nd AEW as part of the 14th EFS. The 14th FS is deployed from Misawa AB. [USAF photo by SSgt. Michael R. Holzworth]