Roadside Bombs Kill Four
Lt. Col. Mark E. Stratton II, 39, and SrA. Ashton L. M. Goodman, 21, died May 26 of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Stratton, of Houston, was serving as commander of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team. He was assigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Goodman, of Indianapolis, was also serving with the Panjshir PRT, having deployed from the 43rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Pope AFB, N.C.
In a separate incident, Duane G. Wolfe, 54, civilian deputy director of the 30th Mission Support Group at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., was killed May 25 in an IED attack on his convoy southeast of Fallujah, Iraq. Wolfe, of Port Hueneme, Calif., was a commander in the Navy Reserve serving in Iraq with the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division.
An IED also took the life of 1st Lt. Roslyn L. Schulte, 25, on May 20 near Kabul, Afghanistan. Schulte, a St. Louis native, was an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance operations officer supporting the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. She was assigned to the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam AFB, Hawaii.
Pilot Killed in T-38 Crash
Capt. Mark P. Graziano, 30, who was in training as a test pilot at Edwards AFB, Calif., was killed May 21 in the crash of a T-38 Talon trainer aircraft near California City about nine miles north of the base. Emergency responders declared Graziano dead at the scene.
Maj. Lee V. Jones, a senior navigator undergoing test navigator training at the USAF Test Pilot School, was injured when he ejected from the training jet aircraft. Emergency responders transported him to a nearby medical facility, where he was listed in stable condition.
The Air Force was investigating the cause of the mishap.
USAF Leadership Changes
Gen. William M. Fraser III, the Air Force vice chief of staff since October 2008, will move into the commander’s chair at Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley AFB, Va.
The Senate on May 21 confirmed the nomination of Fraser to take over ACC from Gen. John D. W. Corley. The latter is retiring this fall after having led ACC since October 2007.
The soon-to-be-vacant vice chief’s post will be taken by Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, the commander of Pacific Air Forces since November 2007. Chandler was nominated to the position on May 19. As of mid-June, he had not been confirmed by the Senate.
Also on May 21, Lt. Gen. William L. Shelton, chief of warfighting integration and chief information officer in the Air Force Secretariat since December 2008, received Senate confirmation to be the next Air Force assistant vice chief of staff. He will replace Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz whom the Senate approved on May 7 to be the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, the service’s nuclear-centric major command that is standing up in the fall.
New Senior Enlisted Leader
CMSgt. James A. Roy was slated to become the Air Force’s new top enlisted airman on June 30, replacing CMSAF Rodney J. McKinley, who announced his retirement in February. Roy will be the 16th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz announced Roy’s appointment May 8. Schwartz called Roy, who had been serving as the command chief master sergeant for US Pacific Command, a “worthy successor” to McKinley, who became CMSAF in June 2006.
Roy entered the Air Force in 1982 and served initially as a heavy equipment operator and subsequently in various supervisory positions in civil engineering units. He has served as command chief at wing, numbered air force, and joint levels.
9th AF and AFCENT To Split
The Air Force announced in May that it wants to separate Air Forces Central’s forward warfighting element from the rear day-to-day oversight component of 9th Air Force.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz told lawmakers May 19 during a House Armed Services Committee hearing that the split would be temporary but is necessary to put “100 percent focus on the operations currently under way” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Schwartz indicated that the three-star head of AFCENT—currently Lt. Gen. Gary L. North—would take less than 50 people with him to establish a forward headquarters in Qatar to focus on the fight.
Heading 9th AF at Shaw AFB, S.C., would be a two-star general with a one-star vice commander. Schwartz called this action “imminent,” pending Congressional approval.
Concern Over Air Strikes
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on May 11 said the US makes “a tremendous effort” to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but must still do an even better job. His comments came after an air strike against Taliban insurgents May 4 in Farah province caused the death of Afghan civilians, leading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to call on the US to end all air attacks.
According to the interim report from US Central Command’s investigation released May 20, the strike killed an estimated 60 to 65 Taliban extremists and possibly 20 to 30 civilians. But video footage clearly shows enemy forces entering the targeted buildings, and there are reports that the Taliban may have used the civilians as human shields.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told National Public Radio May 29 that the issue of avoiding civilian casualties remains a great challenge. “We don’t want our forces going into combat with one hand tied behind their back, but we also cannot take actions that might produce tactical victories but undermine the efforts strategically,” he said.
F-22s Deploy Again to Pacific
Contingents of 12 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and hundreds of airmen left Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and Langley AFB, Va., in May for four-month deployments to Andersen AFB, Guam, and Kadena AB, Japan. These deployments are the fifth and sixth time that Raptors have shifted to the Western Pacific since February 2007 as part of a normal US rotation of forces.
The deployments include two firsts: the inaugural overseas tour of Elmendorf’s 525th Fighter Squadron (to Andersen) since its reactivation in fall 2007, and the initial overseas stint of Langley’s 94th FS since the unit transitioned from the F-15 to the F-22.
Members of Air Force Reserve Command’s 477th Fighter Group are accompanying the 525th FS, while airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing deployed with the 94th FS.
TacSat-3 Achieves Orbit
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tactical Satellite 3, or TacSat-3 for short, successfully reached low Earth orbit May 19. It was launched into space from NASA’s regional launch facility on Wallops Island, Va., aboard a Minotaur I booster.
The 880-pound TacSat-3 is the first operationally responsive space mission to comprise payloads based on recommendations from combatant commanders. “We are excited about demonstrating revolutionary technology, which will ultimately benefit the warfighter, during TacSat-3’s 12-month flight,” said Thomas Cooley, TacSat-3 program manager with AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M.
TacSat-3’s payloads include a hyperspectral imager, a communications package, and an avionics experiment that features the first space-based employment of plug-and-play technology.
Acquisition Reform Becomes Law
President Obama on May 22 signed into law the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, a law designed to overhaul the manner in which the Pentagon buys its weapons and reverse the trend of skyrocketing costs and lengthy fielding delays.
“As Commander in Chief, I will do whatever it takes to defend the American people, ... but I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars to keep this nation secure,” Obama said at the Rose Garden signing ceremony, citing Government Accountability Office audits in 2008 that found $295 billion in cost overruns in 95 major defense projects.
The bill’s signing came about two weeks after the Air Force leadership unveiled a five-point plan to improve the service’s acquisition arm based on shortcomings identified in recent competitions such as the KC-X tanker and combat search and rescue replacement vehicle (CSAR-X)and subsequent reviews of acquisition processes.
Minot Wing Passes Inspection
The airmen of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., in May successfully passed the wing’s first no-notice nuclear surety inspection. The 10-day inspection concluded May 22.
Col. Joel S. Westa, 5th BW commander, praised his unit for its performance. “By earning the highest grade possible after having the most rigorous and intensive inspection ever, with no preparation, we have shown the world the tremendous improvements we have made,” he said.
Last summer, the bomb wing had to undergo a retest following an earlier NSI that found some minor discrepancies; the unit then passed the retest. NSI evaluations have gotten tougher since a series of nuclear-related gaffes, one of which involved the 5th BW, led the Air Force to revamp its nuclear enterprise.
Obama Extols Nellis Solar Project
President Obama on May 27 praised the Air Force’s 140-acre, 14-megawatt solar photovoltaic system at Nellis AFB, Nev.—the nation’s largest—as “a shining example of what’s possible when we harness the power of clean, renewable energy to build a new, firmer foundation for economic growth.”
Obama said the solar project, which took about six months to complete and created some 200 jobs, is “the kind of foundation we’re trying to build all across America” and will save the Air Force “nearly $1 million a year.”
He visited the Nevada site on the 100th day since he had signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Irregular Warfare Wing Considered
The Air Force may establish a wing dedicated solely to irregular warfare, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said April 24 during a speech in Washington, D.C.
Schwartz said the Air Force is “dedicated to establishing an appropriate institutional architecture” for irregular warfare, “perhaps a wing, at least,” backed up by a shift in “culture and career paths” to heighten the service’s commitment to nontraditional warfare.
A decision was anticipated in June. The top USAF leadership will also review the “instruments and tools” needed for irregular warfare, Schwartz said. Also being looked at is whether special operations forces should be scaled up to handle more IW roles, he said.
Tanker Split Buy Opposed
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz on May 21 voiced their opposition to buying new aerial refueling aircraft both from Boeing and Northrop Grumman, preferring instead to choose just one supplier’s offering in the rejuvenated KC-X tanker recapitalization program that is expected to launch a new competition this year.
Some lawmakers have expressed an openness to a split buy, saying that otherwise the KC-X program may derail as it did in 2008. However, Donley, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 21, said splitting the buy would require USAF to have “to spend a lot more money up front” to support two production lines at nonoptimal build rates, putting “a huge dent” in the service’s procurement accounts for other capabilities.
Schwartz added at the same hearing, “We should invest the limited dollars we have to get the most airplanes as quickly as we can,” rather than spending scarce dollars on sustaining “two supply chains, two training activities, and so on.”
Black Hawks Eyed in Near Term
With the termination of the combat search and rescue replacement vehicle program and the fate of a future rescue platform in limbo, the Air Force is seeking $90 million in Fiscal 2010 to buy two new-build UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to replace HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters that it has lost in operations in Southwest Asia.
Service spokeswoman Lt. Col. Karen Platt said in May that the Air Force is completing an assessment of the current UH-60M model to determine the level of modification that would be required to convert it to the personnel recovery mission.
When asked whether this approach is a possibility for replacing the Air Force’s UH-1N helicopters, Platt said that the Air Force is “assessing all available options” in that regard.
House Approves More C-17s
The House’s version of the Fiscal 2009 war supplemental, passed May 14, includes $2.2. billion to procure eight C-17 Globemaster III airlifters. The Senate version of the bill, approved May 21, does not include funding for them, so the issue was to be resolved during the conference on the bill in June.
There is Senate support for more C-17s. On May 12, a bipartisan group of 19 Senators called for a total of 15 more C-17s. But the Office of the Secretary of Defense does not want to buy more than the 205 C-17s already on order, saying it has enough of them when factoring in the Air Force’s 111 C-5s and the use of commercial freight aircraft to haul cargo worldwide.
Supporting the Pentagon leadership’s position is the finding of the Congressionally mandated airlift study, issued to lawmakers in March, that favored upgrading all C-5s to the newest C-5M Super Galaxy configuration over procuring additional C-17s.
Airship Project Takes Off
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced April 27 that it has selected a Lockheed Martin-led industry team to develop a subscale stratospheric airship to demonstrate the utility of using high-altitude airborne sensors of unprecedented proportions for theaterwide surveillance.
This work will occur under phase 3 of the agency’s Integrated Sensor Is Structure program; DARPA is conducting this phase jointly with the Air Force.
The subscale airship is expected to fly in Fiscal 2013. It will carry an X-band radar system with an antenna about half the size of a roadside billboard and a UHF-band system with an antenna roughly equivalent to the size of a soccer field. A notional, full-size operational airship would have sensors dwarfing these, capable of tracking extremely small cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as dismounted soldiers from hundreds of kilometers away.
Talon Successor Sought
The Air Force issued a solicitation to industry on March 31, seeking information on the best attributes for a future trainer aircraft to replace the T-38 Talon, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight on April 10 and is still in widespread use.
The service expects to field this notional aircraft as part of a new advanced pilot training family of systems in the 2017 timeframe to help train future F-22, F-35, and bomber pilots.
One of the issues to tackle with the new trainer is how to prepare student pilots for requirements such as sustained high-G operations and air refueling that are best learned with the aid of an instructor pilot on board, considering there are no two-seat versions of the F-22 and F-35, the solicitation states.
Lawmaker Opposes Bomber Delay
Concerned over the Pentagon’s plans to delay the development of a next generation bomber aircraft, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on May 14 introduced legislation aimed at restoring work on its development in the Fiscal 2010 defense budget.
The bill (S 1044), which is titled “Preserving Future United States Capability To Project Power Globally Act of 2009,” states that it is US policy to pursue the bomber’s development next fiscal year and not to delay this effort—as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced in April—pending the outcome of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, Nuclear Posture Review, and negotiations with Russia on additional nuclear force reductions.
Gates said there is the need for more clarity, and thus more study, on what the future bomber needs to be. Conversely, for Thune, in whose state the Air Force operates a wing of B-1B Lancer bombers, there is a sense of urgency in fielding the new bomber platform.
Air Guard Moving Officer Training
The Air National Guard has decided to consolidate its officer training program with the active duty and Air Force Reserve officer training program at Maxwell AFB, Ala., The Daily Times of Blount County, Tenn., reported May 20.
For the past 40 years, the Air Guard has conducted its officer training at the ANG’s I. G. Brown Training and Education Center on the grounds of McGhee Tyson Arpt., Tenn., near Knoxville.
The last class of prospective Air Guard officers was scheduled to graduate June 26 from the Brown Center, making nearly 15,000 graduates since its opening. For a time, the Air Force Reserve also commissioned its officers through the Brown Center, but in 2007 shifted to Maxwell.
B-1B Gets New Maintenance Plan
The Air Force in April approved a new maintenance construct for the B-1B bomber that is designed to improve the aircraft’s availability rates by speeding maintenance turnaround times and reducing inefficiencies. Full implementation is planned by October 2010.
This “high-velocity maintenance” construct, which USAF implemented with the C-130 fleet in 2007, applies practices used by the commercial airline industry. Under it, each B-1B will go to depot for heavy maintenance four times in five years, with two light HVM cycles scheduled in between, and the service says it will boost the amount of man-hours worked during those times through better organization of workers, tools, and parts.
In 2008, the 66-aircraft B-1B fleet experienced “unacceptable” availability rates, when only 28 aircraft were available at any given time, according to the service.
PTSD Rises Among Airmen
Lt. Gen. James G. Roudebush, outgoing Air Force surgeon general who is retiring in October, told lawmakers May 15 that the Air Force is “seeing an increasing number of airmen” with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, he told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee that the service’s early PTSD identification and treatment has enabled “the vast majority of these airmen” to continue to serve “with benefit of treatment and support.”
As a consequence of the rising PTSD rate, Roudebush said there’s been a “persistent demand” for mental health providers in the deployed environment. Further, he said, the service is “tracking this demand closely,” since it may well increase rather than decrease.
Roudebush noted, too, that the Air Force has “significant challenges” in recruiting and retention of military health professionals, including active duty psychiatrists and psychologists.
Airmen Awarded Bronze Star Medals
MSgt. Kenneth Huhman, a combat controller with Air Force Special Operations Command’s 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., received two Bronze Star Medals with Valor devices on May 7 for his actions in support of Army Special Forces in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region in 2007. He is currently helping the Air Force attract new recruits.
During missions in September and November of that year, Huhman directed close-in air strikes against enemy insurgents during intense, long-duration firefights, repeatedly exposing himself to danger and personally killing many enemy fighters. On one occasion, he was temporarily blinded by the impact of an enemy round near him, but continued to call in strikes.
Receiving Bronze Star Medals for meritorious service in Afghanistan were: Lt. Col. Susan Bassett of Sheppard AFB, Tex., May 5; Lt. Col. Daniel Semsel of Whiteman AFB, Mo., May 6; and SMSgt. Bobby Simmons Jr. of Robins AFB, Ga., April 23.
Recognized for their actions in Iraq were: Maj. Seth Graham of Dyess AFB, Tex., April 17; 1st Lt. Bryan Bouchard of Luke AFB, Ariz., April 24; MSgt. William Craig of Robins, April 13; MSgt. Carlos DoRego of Robins, April 13; MSgt. Scott Rogge of Pope AFB, N.C., May 6; and TSgt. Edward Cannell of Robins, April 13.
Korean War Ace Dies
Retired Col. Harold E. Fischer, 83, a double ace of the Korean War and one of 15 US airmen held prisoner by China, died April 30 in Las Vegas. Fischer flew 105 combat missions in F-80 Shooting Stars during the Korean War, then switched to the F-86 Sabre and returned to combat, ultimately scoring 10 aerial victories.
On April 7, 1953, Fischer’s Sabre went down during a dogfight with enemy MiG-15s. He bailed out, was captured, and subsequently held prisoner in China. Along with three other F-86 pilots, he remained there as a political prisoner until June 1955, two years after the Korean War cease-fire.
Among his military awards, Fischer received the Distinguished Service Cross. He also flew helicopters during the Vietnam War and served as an intelligence officer and commander of the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory in Texas. He retired in 1978.
Air Force Faces F-22 Shutdown Decision
With the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s intent to cap F-22 production at 187, the Air Force is faced with the decision as soon as this summer on how to handle the shutdown of the Lockheed Martin production line.
Options range from closing down the line completely, which would preclude reconstitution, to retaining some tooling in storage for future repairs, F-22 life extensions, or even a line restart at some point for additional cost, officials in the F-22 program office at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, said in a May 14 interview.
The ultimate decision rests with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force leadership. But at the program office level, “we are proposing that you at least keep enough tooling so that down the road, if you had damage, or you wanted to do something in terms of extending the life, you have got the tooling to work on this airplane,” explained Glenn Miller, a support contractor in the program office.
He referred to this option as “shut down with restart capability.”
No matter what option is chosen for the shutdown, the price tag will not be borne in a single year.
“It’s a three-year lead time” to build aircraft, “so, if you think about it, it’s kind of a three-year shutdown process,” Miller said.
The Air Force has included $64 million in its Fiscal 2010 budget proposal to apply toward the shutdown. Miller and Vince Lewis, chief of capabilities planning and integration in the F-22 office, said there would also have to be funding included in Fiscal 2011 and 2012 for this purpose.
The last of the 187 F-22s are scheduled to come off the assembly line in early 2012.
C-27 Fleet Size in Limbo
The Pentagon’s Fiscal 2010 budget proposal to move the C-27 Spartan program solely under the Air Force, and no longer have a joint Army-USAF initiative, leaves open the question of how many of these tactical airlifters are needed and how this decision will impact the National Guard.
The 2010 budget request trimmed the projected C-27 buy from 78 to 38. The 38 C-27s are intended to replace the Army’s 42 elderly C-23 Sherpas. But testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 21, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said the final number has yet to be decided.
Donley said he sees 38 C-27s “as the floor, not the ceiling.” Past studies have shown that the 78 number—54 would have gone to the Army, while the Air Force would have received 24—is still a valid need, he said.
At the same hearing, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said the Air Force would soon present a report on the issue to Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn. However, this may not be for public consumption initially, he noted.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates justified the smaller C-27 fleet size during a May 13 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, saying there is excess capacity within the C-130 Hercules transport fleet that makes a smaller C-27 fleet possible.
He said there are “over 200 C-130s that are available and uncommitted” that could fulfill the tactical airlift mission. Further, he noted, “The C-27 has half the payload of a C-130 and costs two-thirds as much; it can use exactly one percent more runways or airstrips than the C-130.”
The notion that cutting C-27 numbers would hinder the National Guard from performing its homeland mission is “not sustainable,” Gates added.
Major Cyber Security Moves Announced
The Air Force on May 15 announced that Lackland AFB, Tex., is its preferred location to host 24th Air Force, the new numbered air force that will focus on the service’s cyberspace mission. The final decision was pending completion of an environmental impact analysis.
The new NAF, which has operated provisionally at Barksdale AFB, La., will fall under Air Force Space Command, headquartered at Peterson AFB, Colo. The NAF is expected to add about 7,000 personnel positions to AFSPC.
Lackland beat out the other five finalist sites: Barksdale, Langley AFB, Va., Offutt AFB, Neb., Peterson, and Scott AFB, Ill.
Two weeks later, on May 29, President Obama, noting that the security of the nation’s cyber networks is one of the most serious challenges that the US faces and that the nation is not properly prepared, declared that the nation’s digital infrastructure will henceforth be treated as “a strategic national asset.”
“Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority,” he said in a White House address.
To oversee these efforts at the national level, Obama announced the creation of a new cyber security coordinator office within the White House. This coordinator will orchestrate and integrate the government’s cyber security-related policy, work to ensure that budgets reflect the policy, and coordinate the government response in the event of a major cyber attack, he said.
Meanwhile, US Strategic Command is mulling the creation of a new subcommand within its organization that would combine the military’s cyber defense and cyber attack missions under one roof, yielding important synergies, Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, STRATCOM commander, said May 7.
Essentially, STRATCOM is looking at combining the functions of its joint task for global network operations and its joint functional component command for network warfare under a single commander, Chilton told reporters in Washington, D.C.
Air Force Counters GPS-in-Trouble Talk
Responding to press reports in May about the impending doom of the Global Positioning System constellation of precision position, navigation, and timing satellites starting next year, Air Force officials said the constellation is in good health, there are options to mitigate a potential coverage gap, and the next iterations of GPS satellites appear to be on solid footing.
The Government Accountability Office warned in April of a potential gap in GPS coverage starting in 2010 if the constellation begins to shrink in size, due to the almost three-year delay in the first launch of a Block IIF satellite and the fact that the Block III program is still in its early stages and could also face developmental challenges and cost spikes.
In fact, even if the Air Force can keep the Block IIF and Block III systems on their current schedules—first Block IIF launch is expected around November, while the first Block III launch is projected in 2014—there is still a 20 percent chance the constellation will fall below the 24 satellites considered necessary to provide the standard of global coverage to which the US is committed, GAO stated.
Addressing this, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee May 20 that the fact that the Air Force now has 33 GPS satellites on orbit, including three spares, provides “a little bit of breathing space” if an issue arises with getting new GPS capability on orbit on schedule.
Kehler also said the Air Force believes that it has “worked through the problems” that plagued the GPS Block IIF program and that the Block III program is “progressing very well.”
Further, Air Force officials said GPS satellite operators have options, such as providing less coverage to areas where there is less need, if the number of satellites drops.
Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By June 18, a total of 4,316 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,303 troops and 13 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,454 were killed in action with the enemy while 862 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 31,354 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,552 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,802 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Balad Block 40 F-16 Hits 7,000 Flight Hours
An F-16 Block 40 fighter operating with the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, became the first F-16 of this variant to surpass the 7,000-hour milestone during a recent mission over Iraq, the Air Force announced April 30.
“For the aircraft to have reached this milestone is a testament to the maintenance professionals who work our aircraft every day,” said SMSgt. Rob Webster, 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit senior NCO in charge.
From August 2007 to October 2008, the aircraft logged more than 1,400 combat hours in Southwest Asia. At the time of the milestone, this F-16, deployed from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, had accumulated an additional 350 combat hours on its current overseas stint. In 2008, an F-16C Block 25 aircraft with the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing became the first Air Force F-16 to amass 7,000 flying hours.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By June 18, a total of 701 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 700 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 471 were killed in action with the enemy while 230 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 3,023 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 1,083 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,940 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Coalition Attacks Helmand Stronghold
Afghan Army forces working with US troops and coalition forces launched a major operation against a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in the northern reaches of Helmand Province in late May, resulting in a protracted battle in and around the Nad Ali District.
On May 18, ground forces attacked the Taliban-held town of Marja, a major command node and hub of opium processing for the militants, according to a US military source.
Troops moved to take control of the center of the town, targeting the bazaar where the main Taliban activity was located. Multiple ground engagements occurred on the initial day, prompting repeated calls from close air support.
Aircraft including Air Force B-1B Lancers, F-15E Strike Eagles, and MQ-9 Reapers responded by employing several guided munitions and Hellfire missiles and gun strafing runs against enemy fighting positions.
Continued engagements in and around the district lasted until May 22, with additional air assets such as A-10 Warthogs and MQ-1 Predators joining the fight.
On May 22, several compounds and buildings were bombed in Marja, including the site of drug production operations, as well as groups of enemy personnel.
After taking control of the center of the town, forces discovered war rooms stocked with maps, communications gear, night vision goggles, packaged explosives for vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, and US military vehicle parts, in addition to large amounts of black tar opium and derivatives.
Around 34 Taliban fighters were reported killed in the fighting to control the town, with 16 terrorists killed during air strikes as Taliban elements attempted to counterattack, according to coalition reports. Six more surrendered.
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