Rockets on their way back home
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 7, 2009 1:46 PM
News-Argus file photo
336th Capt. Steve Baker, left, and Lt. Col. Jay Hallenbeck climb into their F-15E Strike Eagle at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Hundreds of members of the 336th Rocketeers are expected to return to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base early Tuesday morning and later this week, marking the end of the squadron's four-month tour at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
The group, which includes F-15E air crews, maintainers and other support personnel, has been gone since the end of April.
Its charge while in theater: producing 24/7 air power via Strike Eagles -- escorting convoys, responding to troops-in-contact calls, executing shows of force to deter enemy forces and, when necessary, dropping ordnance -- in support of Coalition operations on the ground.
From their squadron headquarters at Bagram, members of the Rocketeers reflected on just what that role means during an interview with the News-Argus July 2.
Both maintainers and air crew members had the same answer: Their job is to ensure a tomorrow for those on the ground fighting for a country's freedom.
Capt. Steve Baker summed it up by recalling his response to a frantic call to his Strike Eagle from troops engaged in a firefight.
"At the end of it they were very elated. They said, 'Thank you so much. You guys did a great job. The enemy fire has ceased. Because of you, we are all going to make it home tonight,'" he said. "When you hear something like that over the radio, you know, you feel pretty good. Your chest gets a little bit bigger."
During their stint at Bagram, 336th air crews and maintainers achieved a rare milestone: Producing 8,000 combat hours.
But they also suffered a tragedy, as a Strike Eagle air crew -- Capt. Mark McDowell and Capt. Thomas Gramith -- were lost after a July 17 crash.
For complete coverage of the Rocketeers' homecoming -- the story, an online photo gallery and video coverage from the flight line -- see Tuesday's News-Argus and click www.NewsArgus.com