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Operation Snowbird: Training preps 188th for Afghanistan deployment

  • Published
  • By Maj. Heath Allen
  • 188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
To achieve an effective battle rhythm, one must first rehearse the cadence of combat.

The Flying Razorbacks tested their mettle and practiced their aim during a recent deployment to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 11-26 to participate in Operation Snowbird.

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.

The objective of Operation Snowbird was to prepare the 188th for its upcoming Air Expeditionary Forces (AEF) rotation to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). This will be the 188th's second combat deployment in the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog."

"Snowbird provided us with a great opportunity to train like we're going to fight," said Lt. Col. Brian Burger, 184th Fighter Squadron commander. "It's great training for the weapons load crews, munitions, crew chiefs and support personnel. It's a team effort where everyone can get used to doing what they will be doing in wartime. It's great preparation for going downrange."

The 188th's last AEF tasking occurred in 2010 when the unit deployed approximately 300 operations, maintenance and support personnel to Kandahar, Afghanistan, also in support of OEF. The 188th deployed a similar grouping to Davis-Monthan.

"It's a stair-step process," said Lt. Col. Tim Eddins, 188th Operations Group commander. "The first week was our crawl before we walked and next time we will be running and then we will sprint. We got the chance to get used to the weapons and used to how the airplane operates when you drop live weapons and how the system works. The second week we stepped it up and got a lot more complicated."

The 188th dropped myriad live munitions at the Barry M. Goldwater Range that it doesn't have opportunity to accomplish at Razorback Range, including GBU-38 JDAMs, GBU-12 LGBs, MK-82s, MK-66 rockets and AGM-65 Mavericks. The 188th also fired 30 MM rounds from the A-10's GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun.

"The airspace in Fort Smith is very good and we have a top notch range and restricted area as well as a very large military operations area right in our own backyard that goes from 100 feet to 23,000 feet," Burger said. "But we're still a little limited on what types of weapons we can drop because it is still a fairly heavily populated area. At Snowbird, there are several, large tactical ranges carved out where we can drop live ordnance and heavyweight full-scale inert weapons, including laser- and GPS-guided."

The trip to Davis-Monthan also furnished the 188th with the opportunity to hone its skills by conducting training and logging operational experience in a mountainous, desert terrain, which closely mimics the climate and conditions in Afghanistan.

"It's not only an opportunity for the experienced pilots to mentor the pilots who don't have that combat experience," Eddins said. "It's also a great chance for the pilots and maintainers to come together and learn how to work through issues in a training setting so that we'll have a better idea of what the fixes are when we get into combat."

While this summer's deployment will be the 188th's second in the A-10, Eddins said about 30 percent of the unit's pilots have yet to experience combat in the Warthog. Eddins, though, added that only four pilots had endured combat in the A-10 when 188th made its AEF debut in the Warthog in 2010.

"This time we have more experience and leadership because we have more pilots who have gone through many of those combat scenarios in the A-10," Eddins said. "We have a better idea of what steps to take and what steps not to take."

Eddins said that experience showed at Snowbird.

"It's gone a lot smoother between pilots and maintenance because we know the routine better," Eddins said. "It gives us a chance to build that team cohesiveness and camaraderie. We all knew the routine in the F-16 but everything is different in the A-10. From the speed and loiter time to the way you attack targets, it's a lot different."

The A-10's primary mission in southern Afghanistan is to fly close-air support in response to ground troops who may be in contact with the enemy, or to escort convoys in particularly hostile areas. When not supporting ground troops, A-10s patrol designated sectors and provides aerial reconnaissance on locations of interest to ground commanders.

The 188th will transition to a more rapid battle rhythm in May when it participates in Green Flag-East at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.