442nd warriors arrive in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Maj. David Kurle
  • 455 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
As members of the 442nd Fighter Wing’s advance team settle in at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, they are ensuring a smooth transition for the main body of Citizen Airmen deploying here from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

The first six reservists from the 442nd, which is deployed with aircraft maintainers and pilots to conduct air-to-ground missions using A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, arrived here May 6. A 442nd FW public affairs officer arrived May 7.

The base here is located in a valley in central Afghanistan surrounded by 20,000-foot mountains, which still have last winter’s snow on them. But members of the 442nd are not letting the somewhat idyllic scenery mask the importance of their mission.

“I think the maintenance mission is very important,” said Lt. Col. Alan Priest, deployed from the 442nd, he is the aircraft maintenance unit officer in charge for the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group here. “The other day we bombed some bad guys and that tends to get our maintenance people pumped up, especially when an airplane comes back empty.”

Bagram Airfield is run by the Army, which conducts daily missions on the ground throughout Afghanistan. One of the reservists’ missions will be to provide close air support and eyes in the sky for the Army Soldiers on the ground. Despite the relative security of the airfield, 442nd reservists know they are still in a combat zone and to expect the unexpected.

“I think, generally, everyone feels secure at this location,” Colonel Priest said. “But you can’t become complacent, I think most people realize that.”

The conditions here tend to run on the dry side, dirt, dust and gravel are a way of life. Deployed Airmen sleep in B-huts, six- to seven-person dormitories made from plywood. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service runs a PX, Burger King, barber shops and other amenities and is also in charge of the dining facilities.

“It’s great, absolutely wonderful, to come to an AEF location and find several dining facilities and even BX’s,” said Chief Master Sgt. Steve Brazeal, the AMU chief for the 455th EMXG here.

“The dining facilities actually serve pretty good food,” said Senior Master Sgt. Marian Simmons, a munitions production supervisor with the 455th EMXG. “I don’t see anyone over here losing a tremendous amount of weight.”

The current state of Bagram Airfield is vastly improved over the first time the 442nd deployed here in 2002 when maintenance operations were conducted out of two tents, according to Chief Brazeal.

“We’ve got actual buildings to work out of,” Chief Brazeal said. “In my opinion, it’s a huge improvement over the past few years in that we have a full-up facility to work out of.”

As for flying operations, the A-10s fly daily missions in support of military operations throughout the country. Colonel Stephen Chappel, a deployed A-10 pilot from the 442nd, now flying for the 355th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron has already flown sorties over Afghanistan and expects flying operations to remain busy throughout the deployment.

“The majority of the sorties are in support of Army ground operations,” Colonel Chappel said. “It’s a mixture of close air support, reconnaissance, and pre-planned operations.”

The importance of deploying to Bagram Airfield and the reminder that this is still a combat zone hit home for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen here when almost the entire base lined up on the airfield, May 8, to pay tribute to six fallen soldiers who were taking a last flight to the United States.

“The fallen comrade ceremony on the 8th was a horrific reminder that the U.S. and its allies are under attack every day while deployed in support of these contingency operations, and that security should never be taken for granted,” Colonel Chappel said.

“We are aware of why we are here,” Sergeant Simmons said. “We are here to keep the people responsible for why we’re here from ever attacking our country again.”