132nd Fighter Wing members return from Operation Iraqi Freedom

  • Published
  • By Lt.Col. James Freese
  • 132FW/PA
The 132nd Fighter Wing recently welcomed home approximately 270 personnel to the Iowa Air National Guard Base, located at the Des Moines International Airport, Des Moines, Iowa. They were returning from an Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) aviation package deployment to Joint Base Balad (JBB), Iraq. Weather diverts and a host of scheduling issues delayed the arrival of the F-16 aircraft, the main body, and the En-route Support Team (ESTA). The F-16s' attempted to land in Des Moines on 22 December, but were diverted to Whiteman AFB, Mo., because of icing conditions. The pilots were recovered and returned to Des Moines by ground transportation the same evening. Christmas Eve day 230 members returned to Des Moines in the morning by a contract carrier with the remainder of the aviation package (the ESTA) returning in the afternoon via C-17.

The operation was part of a coalition deployment, which included aircraft and Airmen from both the 132nd Fighter Wing and the 115th Fighter Wing, located at Madison, Wisconsin. The aircraft was obviously the F-16 Flying Falcon, a multi-role, super-sonic fighter. The Airmen were primarily pilots, maintainers, operations/intelligence specialists, supply technicians and logicians. Most Airmen were deployed for about 60 days, but many deployed for 120 days.

The tasking of this group of returning Airmen was to provide armed over-watch of convoys and patrols; non-traditional intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance; counter rocket and mortar missions; and counter improvised explosive device missions. To accomplish this, the Wing flew approximately 400 sorties, which involved over 1,000 hours of combat flying.

Lt. Col. Mike McMillin, the 124th Fighter Squadron Commander and Detachment Commander for the unit at Joint Base Balad stated: "Our main objective over here has been to support the ground forces by using non-lethal means to facilitate winning the peace. The war has been won for quite some time, but winning the peace has proved to be far more difficult. By using non-lethal means to find, track, fix and capture insurgents and extremists, we are able to take bad guys off the street without destroying Iraqi infrastructure or injuring innocent Iraqis. As the transition to Iraqi control gains momentum, it becomes increasingly important to show them that their objectives can be attained through police actions and the legal process, as opposed to using overwhelming force. This is critical as the capability to use overwhelming force shrinks exponentially during the drawdown of US forces. Soon enough, police action and the legal system will be their only means of maintaining civil order throughout the country. Our current operations contribute directly to helping them ensure future success."

Chief Master Sgt. K.C. Hutcheson, who deployed as the 332nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) Night Superintendent noted that while this was the units' second trip to Joint Base Balad the level of excellence displayed by the 132nd, was not diminished. Chief Huthceson explained: "Austere conditions, coupled with long 12 hour shifts, did not hinder flight line maintainers from answering all calls for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance; equating to a stellar 100% Air Tasking Order (ATO) fulfillment. Several AMU assigned personnel were also instrumental in the massive clean-up and salvage operations associated with the bases deliberate draw down. In addition to the critical flight line activities, 132nd mechanics and fabricators performed five aircraft phases along with a myriad of other support to different airframes assigned to JBB. 132nd supply personnel were instrumental in these successes by acquisitioning all needed parts and supplies for the Airmen, to meet the mission. Engaged logistical personnel met the enormous and ever-changing challenges presented them, in order to get all personnel and equipment back home".

This is the ninth time the wing has deployed its Aviation Package to the region since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. The wing's last deployment was to Joint Base Balad, Iraq in 2008.

In addition to the 270 Airmen who deployed with the Aviation Package, the 132d Fighter Wing deployed 62 Airmen, either individually or in small groups, to the following locations: Joint Base Balad, Iraq; Baghdad International Airport, Iraq; Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan; Insirlik Air Base, Turkey; Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia; Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany; and Manas Air Base, Kygyzstan, and bases throughout Southwest Asia. Deployment durations range up to 180 days.