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Pilots say training prepared them for combat

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 26, 2003) -- Pilots flying combat missions over Iraq in recent days are saying that the real-world operations there are validating their years of training.

The comments came from a March 26 teleconference in which pilots and other members of the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing at an undisclosed location described recent operations to reporters here. One KC-10 Extender pilot said that what he is experiencing now is exactly what his training prepared him for.

Crew chiefs with the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepare to launch F-16 Fighting Falcons from a desert air base March 24. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Stefan Alford.

"I have flown some missions during (Operation) Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan, but the pace was not as intensive as it is here," said Maj. Darron, who like the other pilots in the teleconference, asked that his full name be withheld. "Also, there are a lot of airplanes in the sky and more people shooting back here. But we have trained for this.

"I've been flying the KC-10 for a long time, and that's what training does. It really mimics what could possibly happen when you get into action or combat, " said Darron, who's deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

In some cases, the training scenarios are actually more difficult than real-world situations, according to Capt. Paul, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan.

"Red Flag (a training exercise in Nevada) is a lot more intense than this," Paul said. "At Red Flag, the adversaries were a heck of a lot better."

Paul's mission is suppression of enemy air defenses -- knocking out enemy ground-based weaponry such as anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles.

"There's been lots of AAA and surface-to-air missiles," Paul said. "And we've been doing lots of suppression of enemy air defenses the last few days. I would say it is a moderate threat. As you have seen on TV, it is pretty thick around Baghdad. But that's the only real threat -- Baghdad."

This is Paul's first time flying in actual combat and his first time being fired upon by enemy anti-aircraft weaponry.

"It's sort of surreal, sort of nerve racking," he said. "It kind of ticks you off really."

But when the weapons do start flying past his wingtips, Paul said he thinks back to his training.

"Flying in combat, actually getting to do what you have trained for years and years to do, ... is the real thing," Paul said. "It's not difficult and is a lot more exciting than expected."