February 23, 2009 (by Capt. Timothy Naurothv) - The 22nd FS Stingers began their air and space expeditionary force rotation spin-up in earnest in January when they set off with 16 jets, 35 pilots and more than 250 52nd FW Sabers to the "Home of the Fighter Pilot," Nellis AFB.
USAF F-16C block 50 #91-0344 from the 22nd FS is on short final to runway 03R at Nellis AFB on January 21st, 2009. [Photo by EOR]
Sunny Las Vegas was a warm welcome for the Stingers after a more than 10-hour first leg ferry flight to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., that kept pilots stuck in the cramped F-16 cockpit for roughly 13 hours.
The pilots were required to wear anti-exposure suits because they were crossing the icy Atlantic in January. The airtight, form-fitting, waterproof over-garments', are affectionately called "poopy suits," are a necessary evil that provide a pilot critical survival time while waiting for rescue in cold water if forced to eject for an emergency.
"I hate wearing that thing," said 1st Lt. Max "Efes" Cover, 22nd FS
pilot. "It's like getting wrapped in a plastic bag and then taped shut at the neck."
It wasn't all fun and games for 22nd FS Airmen in Vegas. They participated in Green Flag - West, an air-to-ground Army-Air Force exercise, which called for a rigorous work schedule of 12-plus hour days, six days a week. The pilots flew over the California Desert in radio contact with Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers who were positioned with Army forces conducting Operation Iraq
Freedom preparation training in the National Training Center, the largest desert training area in the U.S. When the Army needed a bird's eye view of enemy activity, or precision guided munitions on target, "The Big 22" was there to deliver. The squadron flew a total of 374 flights, dropped 22 Global Positioning System-guided bombs, 18 laser-guided bombs and shot more than 18,000 20-mm rounds at targets identified by the JTACs.
"We couldn't have done it without the great team work and professionalism of our phenomenal maintenance personnel," said Lt. Col. "Rolex" Waite, 22nd FS director of operations.
The 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit delivered a constant stream of healthy F-16s for the pilots to fly for more than 686 hours. The AMU was able to quickly repair aircraft problems that threatened to take the jets off the flying schedule. Their outstanding efforts didn't go unrewarded, as AMU and support Airmen received a total of 39 familiarization flights in the F-16 as part of the 52 FW's incentive ride program.
"The flight was really great" said Senior Airman Leo "Ollie" Oliphant, 22nd AMU crew chief. "It was pretty cool to see what the pilots actually do up there."
The squadron did find some time for rest and relaxation after the conclusion of the GF-W AEF
spin-up exercise. Stinger pilots, as well as numerous pilots from Nellis AFB
and Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and guests, started off the weekend with a much anticipated "Dos Gringos" concert Jan. 30, 2009. The band featured the 52nd Operations Support Squadron chief of wing weapons, Maj. Robert "Trip" Raymond, on lead guitar and entertained more than 300 fans with their animated fighter pilot-based lyrical music.
The $3,300 generated from ticket sales was donated to the Air Warrior Courage Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by a group of retired USAF pilots, "The River Rats," who support former prisoners of war and their families. Lieutenants from the 22nd FS put a lot of work into making the event a success.
"We are happy and honored to donate to such a fine cause and demonstrate our support to those who made such a huge sacrifice in the past," said 1st Lt. Abe "Skids" Lehmann, who managed the event.
Following two weeks of in-depth training in the GF-W exercise, the Stingers flew one more week out of Nellis AFB to hone their close air support skills by flying training sorties in conjunction with the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron and other JTACs from Fort Hood, Texas. This additional flying time enabled pilots to complete their remaining spin-up training events with emphasis on current downrange tactics that readied "The Big 22" for potential tasking during their AEF bucket during the next five months.
"I couldn't be more proud of the Stinger Team that deployed to Nellis," said Lt. Col. Doug "Stoli" Nikolai, 22nd Fighter Squadron commander. "Thanks to the hard work and dedication to all involved, we are now fully prepared to support the Combatant Commander and the full spectrum of associated downrange taskings."