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 News Article

Air Guardsmen Detail Iraqi Freedom Close-air Support

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2003 – Three days into Operation Iraqi Freedom, Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Kennedy got a new mission: Go to Tallil air base in Iraq and ready it for A-10 Thunderbolt II missions.

Kennedy, the commander of the Michigan Air National Guard's 110th Operations Group, knew the mission could be an enormous asset in the war against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

If the A-10s could use the base near Nasiriyah, the coalition could provide more close-air support for forces attacking the regime near Baghdad.

The idea was A-10s would fly out of Al Jaber air base in Kuwait, land at Tallil and refuel so aircraft could spend more time over the target.

And the close-air support specialists were in demand. Kennedy said during a Pentagon interview that the first week of the war, close-air support requests went in to the Combined Air Operations Center "open-ended" meaning no specific aircraft type was requested. After the first week, he said, 80 to 90 percent of the requests for close-air support were A-10 specific.

But Tallil, the former Iraqi air force field, was a wreck. The Iraqis had built berms across the runways to stop U.S. airmen from using the facility. The buildings all were missing windows; there was no tank farm to refuel aircraft. In short, there was nothing that U.S. airmen could salvage to use in operations.

When Kennedy arrived there was still fighting at the field's gate. Fuel, ammunition, maintenance facilities, security personnel, medical facilities -- they all had to be brought to the field and installed.

Air Force Maj. Keir Knapp, another A-10 pilot with the 110th, helped Kennedy put the facility together. He gathered all the equipment the unit would need to operate from the "bare-bone" base. This included maps, computers, intelligence capabilities and communications. Land convoys and C-130 airlifters got equipment and materials to the base. Army, Marine and British engineers helped the airmen build revetments for aircraft and for refueling points.

Airmen pitched in to clean the buildings and to set up an operations center.

It worked. Four days after Kennedy arrived, the first A-10 refueled at Tallil. Three days after that, the first A-10s began operating permanently out of the base.

The 110th continued to fly missions out of both Al Jaber and Tallil. They produced an enviable combat record. In four weeks, the Michigan Air Guardsmen took out 1,100 targets with 12 A-10s. They took out tanks, armored personnel carriers, buildings, aircraft, bunkers, weapons storage bunkers and revetted positions, and vehicles.

Bur this air support was never more critical than in taking Baghdad. On April 9, Air Force Maj. Scott Cuel was called for an emergency close-air support mission in support of Marines in the center of Baghdad. The Marines had gone on a raid and had run into a huge pocket of resistance, Cuel said.

The Marines and anti-coalition forces were intermixed. There were other aircraft in the close-air support queue, but they carried larger bombs that would probably have killed as many Americans as Iraqis. Wounded Marines could not be medevaced out of the area due to the proximity of the regime forces and the volume of antiaircraft fire, Cuel said.

"We got down and did what the A-10 does best," Cuel said. He got low and visually separated the good guys and the bad guys. "I flew an extra pass to make sure I was dropping in the right area and the ground guys were happy, and then we started to employ ordnance," he said. "We put about 600 rounds into them."

The Marine forward air controllers said that the attack broke the back of Iraqi resistance in the area.

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