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Sat, Jun 04, 2005

B-52 Aids Ground Troops Under Small Arms Fire

A B-52 Stratofortress from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group dropped three joint-direct attack munitions recently on a cave of anti-coalition forces in Afghanistan, killing two and leading to the capture of 10 others by coalition ground forces.

The mission was one of 22 close-air support and armed reconnaissance sorties flown that day by coalition aircraft.

Supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-52 was providing close-air support in the Oruzgan Province. Coalition troops came under small arms fire, and the B-52 responded, officials said.

“It felt really good when we heard that the bomb hit the cave dead on and closed all three entrances,” said the mission lead about the sortie that dropped the munitions.

He also said it took every bit of experience and training on the part of the crew.

“We were swapping information with a combined team of maintenance, weapons and operations experts at this forward-operating location,” the lieutenant colonel said. “We were also talking with Army and Air Force ground troops who were giving us targeting information. Thanks to the efforts of a team spread across 3,000 miles, we put bombs on target.”

For one young Airman deployed from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., it was his first experience of seeing a bomber return after dropping live munitions, and one he said he will never forget. He has been in the Air Force 18 months.

“I didn’t actually believe it until I saw it,” said Airman 1st Class Marcus Thames, a weapons loader on his first deployment with the 40th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron at a forward-deployed location. “When you see that plane with empty (weapons) racks, you know you completed your mission.

“My supervisor always said it’s a great feeling, and it was for me,” he said. “I felt that we actually helped our boys in Afghanistan.”

Master Sgt. James Klimpel, the weapons section superintendent, said the job at home station is all about training. The most intensive training takes place once a month in the load barn for every load crew at home station. They load each munition that they are certified on under the watchful eye of weapons standardization Airmen.

“It’s all timed,” said Sergeant Klimpel, also from Minot. “If they don’t do it within the allotted time, they fail.”

Airman Thames said all that training certainly pays off when it counts.

“This is my first time for everything, particularly actually loading live weapons,” he said. “I did all that training at Minot, but this is the real deal.”

Besides the mission that took out the cave, a second B-52 and several Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs provided close-air support to coalition troops the same day in the vicinities of Bagram and Kandahar without using weapons.

The mission lead on the cave sortie said he feels strongly that the mission here is more than dropping bombs, it is to support the warfighter in ways never imagined.

“Sometimes the desired effect involves lethal kinetic firepower -- bombs on target,” he said. “Other times, the desired effect may simply be to deter enemy action by making it clear there’s a fully loaded B-52 ready, willing and able to deliver weapons in a matter of minutes.”

While it may be easier to measure the immediate, tangible effects of a bomb on a target than to measure how many mortar rounds were not fired at coalition ground forces because a B-52 was flying overhead, chance encounters with guys on the ground paint the picture all too well.

“A bomber pilot recently struck up a conversation with a young Army Special Forces Soldier while waiting for airlift,” the lieutenant colonel said. “When the Soldier learned his companion was a bomber pilot who had flown over him in country, his eyes welled up as he shook the pilot’s hand, saying, ‘You may not know it or understand, but when you are overhead, the bad guys don’t shoot at me and my friends’.”

That, too, is mission accomplished. [ANN Salutes Master Sgt. Rich Romero, 40th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs]

FMI: www.af.mil

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