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F-15E pilots aid troops fighting in Afghanistan
Capt. Vanessa Mahan relaxes for a moment after returning from a mission Sept. 15 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Captain Mahan is an F-15E Strike Eagle weapons systems officer deployed to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing in Afghanistan from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. She is from St. John, Ind. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Keith Brown)
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Seymour aircrews aid troops fighting in Afghanistan

Posted 9/29/2008   Updated 9/29/2008 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore
U.S. Air Forces Central news team

9/29/2008 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan  -- Aircrew on board F-15E Strike Eagles helped turned the tide as Army Soldiers fighting terrorists in Afghanistan were pinned down and needed assistance in mid September.

An improvised explosive device had disabled a vehicle and Soldiers were stranded, but airpower was there to help.

"As we got within 200 meters of (the terrorists), World War III opened up," said Army Staff Sgt. Adam Kern, now assigned to the Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team security forces. "The initial ambush was awful."

It was 18 Soldiers against 60 enemy fighters. Small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire rained down on the team's position.

"It was kind of a moving moment," said Army Cpl. Anthony Jorgensen, now a Kapisa and Parwan PRT SECFOR team leader. "One of our gunners had gone down, so I started shooting the MARC-19 in his place."

Forty-five minutes into the firefight, five Soldiers were wounded to differing degrees.

"I got shot or had shrapnel in my hand -- I don't know what it was," Sergeant Kern said. "One of my guys got shot in both legs. One guy got hit in the mouth with shrapnel or something."

It was getting dark, Corporal Jorgensen said, when the tree line 100 meters in front of them erupted in explosions.

Enter the F-15E Strike Eagle.

"I have a feeling a lot more people would have gotten hurt or killed without the air support we received," Sergeant Kern said.

From the cockpit of her F-15E, Capt. Vanessa Mahan is the weapons system officer delivering precise support to those troops in contact.

During this deployment from the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Captain Mahan said she's never been shot at, but she's fully aware of the urgent need of troops fighting on the ground.

"You know what is going on the ground and in the air. We have to do our job and put bombs on target," she said.

"The infantry's best friend is the pilot," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, the 101st Airborne Division deputy commanding general of operations operating out of Combined Joint Task Force-101 here. "I will also tell you that from my experience, the pilots are always there. Those planes are always there. I have yet to see any United States Air Force pilot not show up. It does not happen."

When a request goes out from troops on the ground in a contact situation for air support, it becomes a priority to maneuver airpower assets to their aid. To be able to provide this protection, pilots and crews must always remain flexible.

"It is a pretty common occurrence for us to walk out the door with a plan and then for us to do another plan while we are airborne," said Captain Mahan, a native of St. John, Ind. "That is something we are used to. Those troops-in-contact are a priority.

"We are there for them and that is what makes it really easy to get up every day and fly these missions," she said. "We have an awesome job and knowing that we are supporting those guys just makes it all the better."

When fighter jets race across the sky to provide top cover, it's important to maintain focus on their objective.

"These guys are capable. They are unbelievably skilled and there is no one else like them in the world," General Milley said. "If you get them on target, they will fly through anything to get to you. That is very powerful. I am glad they are on my team. We are doing real well with Air Force response times to our troops in contact. If Soldiers out there on a mission get ambushed, they are generally getting close-air support there within minutes, and that is important."

When Sergeant Kern, a native of Hughesville, Pa., hears aircraft approaching, it's a reassuring feeling.

"Airpower is unmatched," he said. "It is something you absolutely need. Airpower makes a difference; it is like night and day. Most of the times when we took casualties were when airpower was not there during the initial opening of the ambush. Most of the time, when the enemy hears incoming helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, they shut up and try to scatter. The times they did fire, the planes would pick them off right away and just destroy them."

Aside from obvious kinetic effects, the general said airpower has another beneficial effect.

"There is a tremendous psychological reassurance when the United States Air Force is flying over the United States infantry," General Milley said. "I am an infantry man, and I have been for a long time. When you see an Air Force jet flying over you and you know the enemy sees it. That gives you a real boost."

His Soldiers agreed.

"It is a great feeling when you hear that thundering around you just leap, you are engaging, getting blasted at, people are dropping and you start to hear aircraft coming over the mountains and you are like, 'You are about to get it,'" said Sergeant Kern, deployed here from the 3rd Platoon, Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 103rd Armor, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. "Just to hear the pilots on the radio is like 'Here comes the cavalry.'"

Corporal Jorgensen said he feels a tremendous relief when he hears incoming coalition airpower.

"When we hear the planes overhead, we feel relief because we know it is going to be over, and we are probably not going to die that day," said Corporal Jorgensen, a native of Williamsport, Pa.

Even General Milley recognized the reassurance that his fellow Soldiers feel as they hear an approaching aircraft in the sky.

"I will tell you as infantry that there is nothing quite as comforting as an F-15 flying over your head when you are in close combat," General Milley said. "That makes all of the difference in your day."

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