Fighter Jet News

F-16 Fighting Falcon News

F-16s head south

February 26, 2012 (by SSgt. Heather Skinkle) - Several units moving through an area of responsibility isn't an unusual occurrence, but recently over a two week period, the A-10 Thunderbolt tails based at Kandahar Airfield, switched places with the F-16 Fighting Falcon tails based at Bagram Airfield.

USAF F-16C block 30 #87-0340 from the 124th FS arrives at Kandahar AB on February 16th, 2012. [USAF photo by SSgt. Heather Skinkle]

A combat air support reset is a wing's movement of its members, equipment, and aircraft to another airfield to better address strategic concerns.

"This movement postures close air support to best support the campaign plans in the long and short term," said Col. Kevin Blanchard, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander. "The reset should provide the regional commanders' the best air assets for the environment and operations each will encounter."

A CAS reset may sound simple, but the units faced unique challenges, though overall the transition went smoothly.

"Moving personnel and cargo is something we do every day, but with the reset starting mid-rotation coupled with only a three month planning phase, plus building up certain F-16 airfield requirements at Kandahar Airfield, we had to go above and beyond," said Lt. Col. Thomas "TShane" Nicholson, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing chief of plans.

First, deployed and home station units folded integral personnel into working groups to plan for this colossal movement, said Nicholson. Bagram Airfield and Kandahar Airfield site surveys, developing a time line, and holding several video teleconferences were just a few things done to prep for the reset, he said.

"Our goal during the planning phase was to accomplish this CAS reset with minimal impact to the air tasking order," Nicholson said.

That particular goal was deftly accomplished when all U.S. Air Force components came together in a superb example of how a one-team, one-fight mentality overcame obstacles while maintaining air superiority.

"We are still settling in, but with the phenomenal professionalism of our people, who've had more than eight combat deployments, we haven't missed a single ATO," said Major Trenton Twedt, and 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and F-16 Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge deployed from the 132nd Fighter Wing, Des Moines, Iowa. "Some of our maintainers and pilots have worked with this airframe for more than 15 years."

But keeping jets in the air required looking to the ground for proper F-16 airfield conditions. Standard operating procedures were established and airfield alterations were made.

"An indicator of a strong unit is to set high standards and establish SOPs for people to follow," said Chief Master Sgt. Russell Starmer, with the 451st EAMXS and chief in charge deployed from the 132nd FW. "I'm proud that we came in as the first American F-16 unit at Kandahar and can leave a legacy for our successors."

SOPs won't be the only evidence of the F-16s move to Kandahar. Extra personnel and Airfield upgrades, two full-time sweepers and three new sweeping machines, are a must to mitigate foreign object damage and maintain the F-16s mission capability.
Additional FOD procedures, such as expanding flight line perimeters and increased FOD checks were also enacted. Another necessity for the airfield is a trim PAD, a vital F-16 airfield component that can accommodate 100,000 pounds of engine thrust and is used for strapping aircraft down to perform engine checks.

"We are using the Marines's trim pad because the one being built for us won't be ready for awhile," said Technical Sgt. Jed Holl, 451st EAMXS crew chief deployed from the 132nd FW.

The plan may have accounted for logistical requirements but sometimes Mother Nature can mislay the best of plans.

The 451st Expeditionary Logistical Readiness Squadron had to quickly adapt to shifting weather but still moved more than 550 personnel and 275 cargo increments over the course of the reset, said Technical Sgt. Chad Molenhour, the noncommissioned officer in charge of logistics plans.

While the sheer numbers and intricacies of this reset could overwhelm some, members stayed focused on the bottom line.

"We are here to support the ground commanders, and hopefully with no friendly losses or collateral damage," said Maj. Aleksander Lied, 451st Expeditionary Operations Squadron pilot and monitor deployed from the 124 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron under the 132nd FW. "In doing so we would've effectively accomplished our mission."

Courtesy of 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs