SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich., - A mere six months after officially taking on the A-10C Thunderbolt II flying mission, the 127th Wing successfully completed its first deployment to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for a winter-basing exercised dubbed, Operation Demons to DM.
On Feb. 6, all 10 jets and more than 100 support personnel returned here after spending a month in the warmer weather to develop confidence, enhance competencies and cultivate camaraderie.
The four-week deployment proved that the 107th Fighter Squadron, the 127th Operations Group and the 127th Maintenance Group are ready and able to position their combat capabilities wherever needed in the world.
"This deployment sets us up for taking the organization to the next level in preparation for the AEF," said Lt. Col. Doug Champagne, 107th FS commander, about the wing's impending deployment in support of global operations in 2011.
The unit spent its first deployment focusing on training to be combat ready wingmen with the newest A-10 pilots completing their initial mission qualifications training. More experienced pilots with the unit previously flew the F-16. These Airmen focused their training on achieving flight lead upgrades in the larger and slower A-10.
The former F-16 Fighting Falcon mission took off for the last time from Selfridge Air National Guard Base in 2009, when the 127th Wing underwent conversion to the A-10C per the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
"Although we remain the 107th Fighter Squadron, we do feel like a brand new unit," Said Col. David L. Augustine, 127th Wing vice commander,
Augustine, who has been flying the A-10 for a decade now, credited the 127th Operations Group Commander Col. Leonard Isabelle, 127th Maintenance Group Commander Lt. Col. Greg Holzhei and the 107th FS Commander Lt. Col. Douglas Champagne with the successful conversion.
"This wing has done an amazing job in transferring a renowned F-16 unit into a top-notch A-10 unit," he said.
The journey to Arizona offered the Michigan Guardsmen better winter weather in which to train. It also simulated the desert environment where current combat taskings are taking place in southwest Asia.
The Arizona ranges allowed the flexibility for the 107th's "Red Devils" to drop all the munitions that the A-10 can hold in a single sortie - something that cannot be done in Michigan.
"A lot of the stuff we struggle to train on here, we are unlimited with there," Champagne said. The pilots practiced flying tactical maneuvers at low levels through mountainous terrain. The larger ranges in Arizona also allow jets to drop different munitions and shoot live rockets, flares, and missiles.
New A-10 pilot Lt. Wes Gregory had the chance to shoot a Maverick missile for the first time in his career on this trip. Usually, pilots train at home station using simulators and see how they perform on corresponding video screens.
"It was great to shoot the maverick for real because I could validate the weapons effect of the missile itself - how it impacts the target," Gregory said. "Normally we just do it on video, but it worked as advertised."
The 127th Maintenance Group proved their capability to deploy 10 aircraft and maintain an intense flying schedule for four weeks. Keeping the jets healthy and in the air also allowed 127th Operations to meet their sortie requirements for the first time since climbing into the A-10C cockpits.
"We've struggled with the health of these jets since we acquired them," said Lt. Col. Greg Holzhei, 127th Maintenance Group commander.
He added that the A-10s have been undergoing significant challenges in maintenance over this past year with fixing the fleet-wide wing crack issue as well as getting each jet through many upgrades.
However, the Airmen flew a vigorous flying schedule keeping to about 16 flights a day - a heavy eight turn eight schedule.
"A lot of the A-10 community at Davis-Monthan didn't think we could do it with only 10 aircraft," said Maj. Kurt Ring, 127th maintenance officer. "A couple of things went in our favor: a dedicated work force, working long hours and we didn't have many hard breaks."
The 288 sorties flown allowed the pilots to achieve their upgrades, while logging almost 650 flying hours in the Warthogs. They expended almost 3,000 flares, hundreds of dummy bombs and close to 10,000 rounds of 30-millimeter ammunition from the A-10's large Avenger Gatling gun around which the jet is built.
"This was our first opportunity to deploy with the A-10, so we were able to gain knowledge in the A-10 specific mobility requirements," Ring said of his maintainers. "We were also able to gain insight into sortie generation timelines and requirements. Overall this deployment was a major success for maintenance."
"This trip was a pivotal moment in not only the conversion, but in preparing the unit for combat operations that are just 16 months out," Col. Augustine said. "We've proven we are more than adequately prepared as a combat organization to succeed wherever we may be needed in the future."
Brig. Gen. Michael Peplinski, the 127th Wing commander, said the success of the A-10 deployment and readiness of the 127th Wing is critical.
"With the wing in the midst of two simultaneous mission conversions, these success stories are critical to morale," he said. "The wing continues to steadily move forward toward a combat ready status as it meets the nation's airpower needs."