01/19/06 — Reporting for duty

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Reporting for duty

By Turner Walston
Published in News on January 19, 2006 1:53 PM

After-burners lit up the night sky just after 3:30 this morning as the first deploying F-15E Strike Eagles left Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for Southwest Asia in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Prior to entering the cockpit, officers and crew said goodbye to their families and loaded bags for the deployment, which is expected to last about 120 days. The trip itself will be broken up into two flights of about eight hours each, with the jets reaching their destinations on Friday, a base spokesperson said.

While deployed, the role of the F-15E Strike Eagle will be to provide air-to-air and air-to-ground support to U.S. Army and Marine forces.

"When we're there, our primary job right now is to support the guys on the ground," said Capt. Jordan Grant, who was among the pilots deploying with the 336th Fighter Squadron. "They're depending on us to save the day, if you will, when they get in trouble, or if they need some heavier firepower from an airborne fighter."

Grant's wife understands what her husband faces day-to-day. That's because Capt. Holly Grant is also a pilot. She serves with the 335th Fighter Squadron.

While Capt. Grant is deployed, his wife will be at home with their cat. It is the first deployment for both.

"It's still not real to me. It probably won't really be real to me until we set down in another country somewhere," Grant said.

He said many of the aircrew deploying with him are doing so for the first time. Still, he says they are ready.

"We're ready to go downrange and do our job. I think we all are very confident in what we can do, but at the same time, you're very cautious, keeping in mind that this is the first time that many of us have done it for real. So we're very mindful of doing the best we can."

Grant said the aircrews' training has prepared them for the seriousness of the mission they now face.

"We train to the highest level possible, so we're ready," he said. "One of our tenets of training is to train like you fight, so we try to make everything as real as possible here when we are out on a training mission."

Already on the ground in Asia are more than 250 crew members who will maintain the jets flown by the 336th. Grant said the relationship between aircrew and crew chiefs would be strengthened in the deployed location.

"They work incredibly hard to make sure those jets leave every time. They work extremely hard here, but downrange it's a totally different attitude. We actually get to know them a little bit better. I think it's awesome."

The 336th and its support team are ready to get the job done, Grant added.

"People are rising to the challenge, and that's how you get it done is everybody coming together as a team. Everybody coming together for the same mission. It's just an awesome thing to behold."

Grant said he and his fellow airmen understand the potential impact of their mission.

"Every act that I do, every time we employ a weapon, that can have strategic consequences. Every weapon we drop can end up on the news, every weapon that we drop can be heard about back home, and can go all the way up through the chain of command, all the way up to the president," he said. "All of our tactical things, tactical decisions, can have strategic impact on not only the war over there, but the entire world, and so we're very mindful of that."

For the next four months, Grant and the deployed airmen will focus on their mission. Until he returns, Grant said he will look forward to having someone at home who can relate to his job.

"I think it's great. There's very few guys in the squadron that can go home and talk about what they did today around the dinner table, and have their wife actually understand what you actually went through," he said. "It's great that we can always talk to each other."

Troy Pate, chairman of the Seymour Support Council and co-chair of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Military Affairs, stood on the runway this week to watch the jets prepare to take off. It was the least he could do, he said, to show appreciation to the men and women of the air force.

"This is a tangible way of going out and telling them we appreciate what they're doing," Pate said.

Seeing the jets take off helps put things in perspective, Pate said.

"I realize how fortunate we are, No. 1 that we live in this country, and No. 2 that we've got the people that are willing to do what it takes to keep the country as it is."

Pate said watching the jets take off to fight in war proved the value of the recent effort to protect Seymour Johnson during the Base Realignment and Closure process.

"There's a real pride in our community that we're host to this Air Force base, and I think the community united behind the effort to keep them here," he said. "It's a very rewarding experience to see it in action."