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'Makos' in sky help warriors on ground

by Tech. Sgt. Paul Dean
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

10/19/2005 - ALI BASE, Iraq -- The sky above Balad Air Base was thick with dust and sand when four F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots completed another mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

They were headed to their deployed home at Balad Oct. 17 when they were eventually diverted here.  

Their mission started early that morning, but it was well past lunch when they traveled in a holding pattern above a dusty Balad.

The four F-16 pilots, from the 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, had aerial refueled and were waiting for the sandstorm to pass. But weather forecasters determined the storm wouldn’t break until much later in the evening, so the planes were diverted here.

It was just another instance that proves there’s no such thing as a routine day when you’re an F-16 pilot supporting ground forces in Iraq, said Maj. Darren Censullo, a Reserve pilot deployed with the 482nd Fighter Wing from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. It was just another long day in a small cockpit.

Major Censullo and his fellow pilots were diverted to a deployed air base similar to Balad where Airmen and Soldiers serve alongside each other. It was another opportunity for them to see the ground customers they serve from the air.

“I eat dinner with some of these guys. We have Army guys all over (Balad Air Base) so I get to know some of them and talk to them about their jobs,” said Lt. Col. Jose Monteagudo, commander of the diverted combat air mission.

But unlike relaxed conversation at the dinner table, Colonel Monteagudo also knows the tense chatter while on the job.

“There’s no simulator that can teach you the feeling you get when you hear the guy on the ground yell into the radio, 'We need help now! Take care of it.’”

Colonel Monteagudo said helping the ground forces is the most gratifying part of what’s been an exciting deployment. 

“Every day something’s happening. Every day we’re up here providing cover for (ground forces). I really respect the job they’re doing down there and I am glad we can help anyway we can,” the colonel said. 

Seeing ground combat from his vantage point in the air is an experience Colonel Monteagudo said he’ll never forget. F-16 pilots spend a lot of time supporting ground operations, including watching areas where insurgents have attempted to ambush coalition forces.

By sunrise on Oct. 18, remnants of the sandstorm had arrived at Ali Base, but it was safe enough to depart for another day of supporting coalition ground forces.

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