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Current Libya operation brings back memories of El Dorado Canyon

Tech. Sgt. Pamela McNair-Foust operates a weapons loading vehicle known as a jammer at RAF Lakenheath England during the 1985 U.S. Air Forces in Europe “Loadeo” competition. McNair-Foust armed four of the F-111 aircraft used in the U.S. military’s 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon. Today she assists international F-16 student pilots in training at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Tech. Sgt. Pamela McNair-Foust operates a weapons loading vehicle known as a jammer at RAF Lakenheath England during the 1985 U.S. Air Forces in Europe “Loadeo” competition. McNair-Foust armed four of the F-111 aircraft used in the U.S. military’s 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon. Today she assists international F-16 student pilots in training at the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Arizona Air National  Guardsman Tech. Sgt. Pamela McNair-Foust, a former active duty weapons load crew chief, holds up a piece of history – a munitions solenoid left over from Operation El Dorado Canyon. McNair-Foust joined the 162nd Fighter Wing in 2009 after a break in service and credits her pride in serving to her experience in the first U.S. operation in Libya. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Arizona Air National Guardsman Tech. Sgt. Pamela McNair-Foust, a former active duty weapons load crew chief, holds up a piece of history – a munitions solenoid left over from Operation El Dorado Canyon. McNair-Foust joined the 162nd Fighter Wing in 2009 after a break in service and credits her pride in serving to her experience in the first U.S. operation in Libya. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- April 15 is a day best known as the traditional deadline to file taxes in this county. In 1986, however, that day became notable for another reason - Operation El Dorado Canyon.

In light of the current operation in Libya, Odyssey Dawn, El Dorado Canyon is remembered as a day the U.S. took action against modern terrorists, namely Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan head of state since 1969.

Operation El Dorado Canyon also marked the beginning of a new era of joint tactical operations for the U.S. military.

One of the 162nd Fighter Wing's own warriors was there that day. Tech. Sgt. Pamela McNair-Foust, now a student liaison for the unit's international military student office, recalled her experiences from that day in history.

"We were scheduled for a normal exercise at 1800 hours on the day before the mission. I got a call at home at 10 and was told to be in at noon," said Sergeant McNair-Foust. At the time, she was a weapons load crew chief working on F-111 tactical aircraft at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath station in the United Kingdom.

"That night that we were loading the aircraft; a lot of the crew members were writing notes on the bombs for Gaddafi. We knew that's where they were going," said McNair-Foust.

By 10 p.m., 24 F-111s from RAF Lakenheath were fully loaded with munitions and bombs - ready to rendezvous with 14 Navy A-6E aircraft from two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea.

The F-111s were directed to avoid contentious airspace and were required to fly a 14 hour roundtrip of 6,400 nautical miles to reach their targets in Tripoli, Libya, said McNair-Foust.

Five targets in Tripoli were chosen by the National Security Council and approved by President Ronald Reagan. It became known as National Security Decision Directive 207.

The Libyan targets were destroyed in less than 12 minutes with more than 60 tons of munitions dropped. Reports after the bombing indicated the anti-aircraft guns hardly mustered a response, and none of the Libyan MIGs launched to fight off the attacking aircraft. One U.S. F-111 was lost during the operation.

"Two aircrew members and their jet crashed - they didn't make it back," said McNair-Foust.

"None of us left until we saw [the rest of] the pilots come back at about 9:30 the next morning," said McNair-Foust. "All the planes came back clean. The bombs had all been dropped."

As mementos of their involvement, members of the weapons crew were allowed to keep several of the solenoids left attached to the planes after the bombs had been dropped.

"Solenoids are devices that connect to the arming wire that runs through the munition to the aircraft. It tells the pilot that the munitions have dropped," explained McNair-Foust. "I have some of those. They remind me that I am a part of history, and also that the United States is a country of power, freedom, and of selflessness."

"I have a sense of pride - of belonging - that I was part of that [moment in history]," she said. "You're in the military and you know you're here to serve your country and fight for your country. We went [to Libya] with clear goals in mind and those goals were accomplished in a very short period."

"My experiences make me a better person for the job I have now because I understand pilots - I worked with them for 13 years. All those years prepared me for what I do now. I love what I do," said McNair-Foust.