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By Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, 108th Wing Public Affairs

A 177th Fighter Wing F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over rugged Afghanistan landscape during a mission Nov. 11, 2011. F-16s and F-15s dropped more than 9,000 pounds of munitions on enemy forces trying to overrun a combat outpost in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2011. Their efforts helped kill 70 insurgents and resulted in zero coalition casualties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Brandon Cyr/Released)

An F-16C Fighting Falcon from the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard proudly displays its nose art depicting the number of bombs dropped in combat operations while based at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

Preparing and going through all those inspections was stressful for the 177th Fighter Wing, but when it came time to deploy to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in December 2011 all that preparation really paid off.

"Having been through a UCI (unit compliance inspection), a Phase I and Phase II ORI (operational readiness inspection), we fit the Air Force mold perfectly," said Lt. Col. Bradford R. Everman, deputy commander, 177th Maintenance group. "Our preparation for those inspections ensured we were on our game."

This was important, because unlike Iraq where the Guard has always been a part of the deployment mix, Afghanistan was just the opposite - only active duty fighter units had been deployed to this theater. This was the first F-16 Air National Guard deployment to Bagram.

"It was an opportunity to show that the Air National Guard could integrate with active duty and coalition forces," said Everman.

That meant assuming new roles and responsibilities.

"My supervisor wasn't there, so I had to go to the meetings and report the shop's status," said aircraft electrician Tech. Sgt. Jamie A. Tonkinson.

Photo above: Weapons loader Staff Sgt. Jeffrey J. Raine makes final checks on an F-16C Fighting Falcon Jan. 17, 2012. Photo below: Senior Airman Monica Rivera works on a panel from an F-16C Fighting Falcon Dec. 2, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photos by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

"As supervisors we had to communicate better with the younger troops," said weapons loader Tech. Sgt. Bradley Rivera-Reynoso. "It was important to insuring mission success."

The numbers speak for themselves, 662 sorties for 1,828 hours while setting a new standard for highest fully mission capable rates for the oldest F-16 airframes in the Air Force and Air National Guard inventory.

"The mere fact that we were putting bombs on target - that was a new experience for the younger Airmen," said Rivera-Reynoso. "We took pride in the lives we were saving."

"Just the presence of an F-16 and the enemy would slink away," said Everman.

"I had a cousin in the Army over here and he said he slept better knowing there was air support protecting him," said Rivera- Reynoso.

It wasn't an easy deployment. While New Jersey was experiencing one of the warmest winters on record with virtually no snowfall, the 177th Airmen were being punished with sub-zero temperatures and snowfall that measured in the inches per hour. Combined with going from an elevation of 66 feet above sea level - what they were used to in New Jersey - to 4,895 in the mountains of Afghanistan, there were some serious adjustment issues to contend with.

"It felt like we were getting 'feets' of snow," said Tonkinson.

"Normally there was only five to nine inches of snow," said Everman. "We got more than 50 inches and the season wasn't over by the time we left."

The snow had a bigger effect than forcing everyone to bundle up and trying to avoid slipping on the ice, the ramps had to be kept clear because the aircraft had to be mission ready at all times.

Photo above: Crew chief Senior Airman Joseph Rice operates a snowblower next to an F-16C Fighting Falcon Jan. 5, 2012. Photo below: Engine mechanic Master Sgt. Chris Skierski sweeps the fl ight line for foreign objects and debris Jan. 15, 2012. (Air National Guard photos by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

"We were out shoveling snow 12 hours a day," said Tonkinson. "It was cold manual labor, but nobody complained. Everybody pulled the gumption to get it done out from their center."

The phrase "war does not take a holiday" was certainly true at Bagram. "On Christmas eve the insurgents mortared the base," said Everman.


The key to the deployment's success was the ingredient that is found everywhere in the military: Teamwork.

"I am amazed at how hard people will work in austere conditions to get the job done," said Everman.

Tonkinson amplified that sentiment: " We were all in the same box. Everybody tried to make it fun, we were all working together."

"It wasn't different shops over there, it was one shop," concluded Rivera-Reynoso. "It was my most fulfilling deployment."


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Volume 35 Number 4 Staff / Information
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