Safeguarding ground troops from above

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Roaring his way down the runway in a 43 thousand pound machine, Maj. Vincent Sherer pilots an A-10 Thunderbolt II into the skies of Afghanistan to provide overwatch and close air support for ground forces operating throughout the country.

Sherer, a pilot with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona is making his mark on history as one of the pilots who has flown in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“This is my fourth deployment at Bagram,” said Sherer a native of Portland, Oregon.  “I have a few months left but at the end of this tour, it will be about two years that I have lived here.”

Although he has plenty of time in the skies over Afghanistan, the A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot prepares for sorties here no different than he would back at home station.

“It all starts the night before,” said Sherer.  “I prepare the day before by ensuring I get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.  The only thing that is different here is figuring out a way to get to the squadron from my room, since I don’t have a car.”

On mission day, Sherer is ready to go.  After the short drive to the squadron, he begins to get “greened up.”  During the “green up” process he verifies information, new rules and ensures that his reading requirements are up-to-date.

“We also have multiple systems that we check, read and sign off to verify that all data has been passed down correctly,” added Sherer.  “Checking my gear, validating all the information and preparing my stuff takes about one-and-half hours.  Then we have an hour or so of intelligence and weather briefs along with my own flight brief.”

The preparations before the flight are vital to ensure the safest flight possible, according to Sherer.

As Sherer heads to the busy ramp he is focused on flying. His nose breaths the well-known smells of engine exhaust as he shakes his crew chief’s greasy hand.   Sherer, signs more paperwork before setting his bags down to start the aircraft inspection.

“You have to be able to come to work and focus on the task at hand,” said Sherer.  “If you have stuff going on at home you have to clear that from your mind.  You have to be 100 percent engaged.  For me, that focus has developed after 12 years of flying.”

According to Sherer, there isn’t any time to think of anything else other than mission and preparing for takeoff.

“There is not a lot of leeway to do whatever you want before you takeoff,” said Sherer.  “I walk around, put my harness on and start turning everything on to ensure it functions properly and that takes time.”

After checks are performed and the aircraft is ready, the crew chief sends Sherer off with a salute to the taxiway.  Sherer returns the salute as he waits for his wingman before making their way into the blue Afghan sky.

In a blink of an eye Sherer takes off into the mountains leaving the familiarity of Bagram to shrink behind him.  While in the air, for hours at a time, Sherer’s job is to help guard the troops below.  Missions can go one of two ways, quiet or extremely busy. Whether the mission is less demanding or not, Sherer has experienced different feelings after landing.

“You can go through a broad spectrum of feelings after landing from a sortie,” said Sherer.  “You can either get back from a ‘vanilla’ mission where nothing really happens or a busy day where the JTACs [Joint Terminal Attack Controllers] on the radio are screaming for their life.”

With adrenaline pumping after a busy mission, Sherer believes that those are the moments where a pilot can use that energy to burn lessons into their brain.  This, according to Sherer, helps him develop into a better pilot.

“If something went wrong during a sortie here, you have to take that terrible feeling to drive you,” said Sherer.  “You have to practice it in your mind and put that energy into not letting it happen again, whether negative or positive, you have to harness the emotions to avoid the same situation again.”

Once a mission is complete and Sherer returns to the squadron, he debriefs, signs paperwork, returns equipment, and cleans up to relax and decompress before preparing for another mission.

Having the opportunity to fly a fighter jet and help save troops on the ground, Sherer knows the uniqueness of his mission in Afghanistan.

“There are times that I try to step back and see what I am doing,” said Sherer.  “I look at the equipment I am operating, the people I work with and the mountains I get to look at when I fly.  It is the most incredible feeling to be given the responsibility to be in charge of something that has an impact on people’s lives. It is amazing, I will be able to tell stories of the moments I am living now.”