“Boar” Airmen reopen A-10 operations in Afghanistan

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Wesley, and Airmen 1st Class Rey Nino Estrella and Carlito Yalon, weapons loader Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, load a 500 pound GPS-guided bomb on an A-10 Thunderbolt II before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 10, 2018.

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Wesley, and Airmen 1st Class Rey Nino Estrella and Carlito Yalon, weapons loader Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, load a 500 pound GPS-guided bomb on an A-10 Thunderbolt II before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Feb. 10, 2018. The A-10, also known as a Warthog, is designed to perform close air support for ground troops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Ley)

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Wesley and Airman 1st Class Rey Nino Estrella, weapons loader Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, reload the 30mm gun on an A-10 Thunderbolt II before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2018.

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Wesley and Airman 1st Class Rey Nino Estrella, weapons loader Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, reload the 30mm gun on an A-10 Thunderbolt II before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2018. A-10s returned to Afghanistan based on a decision made by U.S. Air Forces Central Command to realign Airmen and assets that were already assigned to the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Amanda Ley)

Master Sgt. John Tischhauser, 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron production expeditor, performs a preflight inspection on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Master Sgt. John Tischhauser, 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron production expeditor, performs a preflight inspection on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. The 303rd EFS is the first A-10 unit to deploy to Kandahar in six years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

Master Sgt. John Tischhauser, 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron production expeditor, prepares an A-10 Thunderbolt II for takeoff at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Master Sgt. John Tischhauser, 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron production expeditor, prepares an A-10 Thunderbolt II for takeoff at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. The 303rd EFS has been deploying in support of operations in the Middle East for 16 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

Crew chiefs and weapons Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arm the weapons on two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs prior to takeoff at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Crew chiefs and weapons Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arm the weapons on two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs prior to takeoff at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. Arming weapons is the final task for maintenance Airmen to complete before the aircraft take off. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

Staff Sgt. Todd Regas and Tech. Sgt. Joeseph Embrey, maintenance Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, inspect an engine on the A-10 Thunderbolt II after a flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Staff Sgt. Todd Regas and Tech. Sgt. Joeseph Embrey, maintenance Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, inspect an engine on the A-10 Thunderbolt II after a flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. Airmen perform these inspections after flight to check oil levels and to ensure structural integrity of the engine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

Staff Sgt. Todd Regas and Tech. Sgt. Joeseph Embrey, maintenance Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, inspect an engine on the A-10 Thunderbolt II after a flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Staff Sgt. Todd Regas and Tech. Sgt. Joeseph Embrey, maintenance Airmen assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, inspect an engine on the A-10 Thunderbolt II after a flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. Airmen perform these inspections after flight to check oil levels and to ensure structural integrity of the engine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

Senior Airman Victoria Toole, 303rd Expeditionary Aircraft Fighter Squadron crew chief, washes her aircraft on the flight line at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018.

Senior Airman Victoria Toole, 303rd Expeditionary Aircraft Fighter Squadron crew chief, washes her aircraft on the flight line at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2018. Airmen routinely clean aircraft after flights to prevent the build-up of corrosion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor Rhynes)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- A dozen A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 303rd Fighter Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, for the first time in six years.

The squadron, originally intended to support Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, was notified of the change a month before aircraft touched down on the runway at KAF. The aircraft’s new mission would include providing close air support to U.S. forces embedded with Afghan ground teams.

“Essentially, we were tasked for 12 A-10s to deploy in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and then about two weeks before our team started leaving we got the notification we were going to Afghanistan,” said Capt. Christopher Hinote, 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron maintenance officer in charge. “We operated under the assumption that we were going to an austere location because the Air Force footprint at Kandahar was very small. We had to redirect a whole bunch of people, cargo and training requirements to meet our new timeline. We started coordinating with folks on the ground who were sent to Kandahar to see what was already here and what we needed to bring.”

Preparing for the arrival of an aircraft is more than preparing space for parts and equipment. The advanced team also had to secure computers and radios.

“The A-10 is a good airplane and can operate in any environment, but the personnel aspect was something we had to work on,” said Chief Master Sgt. Aaron McRoberts, 303rd EFS maintenance superintendent. “From getting radios that we could use to talk to each other, to computers and any type of communications was a huge challenge.”

Help with that aspect came from the 451st Air Expeditionary Group, the host Air Force unit at KAF.

“Once our advanced team got here, the 451st had done a lot of work to get us ready. There were a lot of negotiations that went on with the Army to get us space for our people, equipment and aircraft,” said Hinote. “We communicated our needs to the 451st and they bent over backwards to get at least the big items taken care of, like where our people would sleep, how would we get to and from work and where we could park our aircraft.”

As a member of the ADVON team, Master Sgt. Duane Edington, 303rd EFS munitions production supervisor, said his portion of the team was ready within three days.

“We had 46 people hit the ground and we scattered in the wind to get our equipment unpacked and ready to go,” Edington said. “In about three days we were ready to start building munitions. Our first four structures were completed after a week and our structure we work out of every day took another week or so to complete. We had to reopen a facility that hasn’t been used since 2012.”

That facility, like many others on the flight line were either closed or replaced with other buildings since the squadron was last at KAF, forcing them to start anew.

“There’s very strict guidelines we must follow for our battery shop, which we didn’t have until we got here,” said Tech. Sgt. Shawn Watters, 303rd EFS electrical and environmental shop chief. “We worked with the civil engineers to get that facility up and running, which just happened recently. A lot of us also have to forecast what may go wrong, because the supply chain isn’t fully established here so it takes a long time go get parts.

“We basically started from scratch with everything,” Edington continued. “It was a long two weeks and we were ready for the main team to arrive. We started building munitions by day three after our arrival. We had all of the components that we could possibly get our hands on and we built double what our aircraft could carry within three days. The first missions flew within 24 hours after the arrival of the aircraft.”

Although there were challenges getting established at KAF, one of the squadron’s crew chiefs said it’s nice to see the training at home pay off during the deployment.

“I love being back here. If I could be deployed more often, I would,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Schultz, 303rd EFS crew chief. “Back at home station we train all year long for this, so being here and putting it all to use and making a difference means a lot to me. When you actually see the fruits of your labor it makes the hardships all worth it. When we recover an aircraft after a mission and we see there’s bombs missing from the rack then you know the bad guy is taken care of. It really puts that warm fuzzy feeling in your gut.”