DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
If the 188th Fighter Wing wants to come through in the heat of the moment it must learn to remain cool under fire. The Flying Razorbacks tested their mettle and their aim during a recent deployment to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., July 25-Aug. 8 to work with the 162nd Fighter Wing's Operation Snowbird.
The 188th deployed approximately 300 operations, maintenance and support personnel along with 13 of the unit's 21 A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" to Davis-Monthan.
The deployment furnished the 188th with the opportunity to conduct training and gain operational experience in a mountainous, desert terrain, which closely mimics the climate and conditions in Afghanistan.
The 188th is scheduled for its Air Expeditionary Forces (AEF) rotation to Afghanistan in spring 2010 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 188th, which will be the first A-10 Air Guard unit to deploy to Afghanistan, will send a similar package to the AOR.
Operation Snowbird, which is a National Guard Bureau program located at Davis-Monthan and supported through the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing, was established in 1975.
"This deployment was vital to the 188th's continued preparation for Afghanistan," said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "Snowbird provided the 188th with valuable training in much the same geographic environment and climate that we will see in Afghanistan. We gained a lot of essential experience that will help prepare us for our upcoming mission."
The 188th received its first A-10A in 2007 and quickly initiated an upgrade to the A-10C to meet criteria for upcoming AEF rotations.
"It's the same aircraft modified with increased capabilities," said Col. Jeff "Kid" Hickman, 188th Operations Group commander. "It's a pretty significant capability leap for the aircraft."
The pilots and support personnel need plenty of time to become efficient at operating the new equipment. Snowbird helped accelerate their proficiency.
"The A-10C features hardware and software upgrades so it's a pretty rapidly evolving process for the pilots," Hickman said. "Right now, we still have aircraft going through modifications to help prepare us for the AEF."
The 188th flew 186 sorties totaling 437 hours during its deployment to Davis-Monthan.
"At Snowbird, we operated in a combat surge mode," said Maj. Ray Hunter, 184th Fighter Squadron commander. "We typically fly about 250 sorties and 375 hours in a month and we've done that in about 10 days. We've flown a lot of 10 turn, 10s and 10 turn, 11s. That's hard to do and our maintenance personnel did an absolutely outstanding job keeping the planes operational."
The 188th dropped 31 GBU-38 JDAMs, 38 GBU-12 LGBs, 100 MK-82s (live), 350 MK-82s (inert), 525 MK-66 rockets and 13 AGM-65 Mavericks and fired 14,000 30 MM rounds from the A-10's GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun.
"Those are the weapons we'll be using in the desert," said Maj. Brian Ahlert, 188th project officer for Snowbird operations. "So for maintenance and ops it was a huge learning experience for everyone involved. It's not just about the pilots learning how to drop live, it's about our weapons guys learning how to load live and our maintenance personnel getting used to being around them."
While many members of the 188th have deployed multiple times with the unit's former aircraft, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, none have experience with the A-10 under such conditions.
"The primary purpose of Snowbird was for us to employ live weapons," Ahlert said. "Most of our pilots are F-16 guys who haven't dropped live off the A-10C. This was a chance for us to drop live weapons on live targets, which will be similar to what we expect to see in Afghanistan."
The 188th will continue training for its upcoming AEF deployment with another two-week exercise slated for October. The 188th will venture to Green Flag, hosted by Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
"Most of what we're doing at Snowbird is learning how to deploy the ordnance effectively and safely," Hickman said. "When we get to Green Flag we will be ready to use those skills in a tactical scenario and operate as if we were in Afghanistan."
Ahlert said Snowbird wasn't just about pilots and support personnel adjusting to the live weaponry but also the unit acclimating itself to the extreme temperatures they will endure in a desert work environment.
Ahlert said a temperature assessment was conducted during the first week of the deployment and the flightline reached 150 degrees in the sun and 108 degree in shaded areas.
"It was good for us to experience that kind of heat," Ahlert said. "That's what we're going to see in Afghanistan and we need to be prepared to handle it. We had heat monitors on the flightline to make sure everyone stayed safe and hydrated. The maintenance personnel did an outstanding job and performed admirably under those circumstances."