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A-10 unit reaches 10,000-hour milestone

by Staff Sgt. Jason Lake
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

2/27/2009 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Members of the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron here reached a historic milestone Feb. 24 when the unit surpassed 10,000 combat flight hours in the A-10 Thunderbolt II for a single deployment rotation.

Col. Raymond Strasburger, the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, and Lt. Col. Sam Milam, the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, were the two pilots credited for reaching the milestone after completing a five-hour, close-air-support mission in southern Afghanistan.

As the mission flight leader, Colonel Milam landed his A-10 first, and was welcomed out of his jet with a fire hose drenching by Army Lt. Col. George Chizmar, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's ground liaison detachment commander.

"The 75th EFS has made (our organization) feel like part of their organization, and they've become our family while deployed," said Colonel Chizmar, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman who relays critical information from ground forces to the pilots during each mission. "I was honored to participate in this milestone event."

Colonel Strasburger received a much drier welcome from Colonel Milam who congratulated his wingman and old friend with a handshake and a smile.

"We've had the opportunity to fight together in combat before," said Colonel Strasburger, a native of Washington, D.C. "He's (like my) brother and this was the first opportunity I've had to fly with (him) during this rotation."

The two veteran pilots, who have worked together numerous times since Colonel Milam was a young lieutenant, said the milestone was a direct reflection of the hard work and dedication of the Airmen at Bagram Airfield.

"Nothing happens without the dedication, self-sacrifice, and teamwork that ensures our aviators are at the right place at the right time with the right ordnance, and in a position to provide close-air support to our embattled Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines," said Colonel Strasburger, who has deployed to Bagram Airfield three times including one tour in Colonel Milam's current position. "From ammo and our weapons loaders to fuels technicians, maintainers and life-support; there are hundreds of Airmen making a difference for our men and women on the ground."

Members of the 75th EFS are deployed here from the 75th Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

Colonel Chizmar said the A-10 and the other Air Force assets added to the inventory here over the last seven years have provided vital support for American and coalition troops.

"Close-air support is absolutely critical in the execution of ground operations throughout Afghanistan and is directly responsible for saving lives every day," he said. "Close-air support is an enormous force multiplier in today's joint and coalition operational environment. It also offers the ground force commander a wide spectrum of response options in a precise and timely matter."

As time winds down on the 75th EFS's deployment, Colonel Milam reflected on some of the unique challenges his unit has faced including a two-month deployment extension and a surge in the number of daily sorties flown by more than 65 percent.

"Our total flight hours here will be slightly less than the entire fighter group back home flies in an entire year, but it was accomplished by a single squadron with less than its full complement of aircraft in less than six months time," said the 19-year Air Force veteran from Quitman, Miss. "This has been a unique deployment and this milestone is a manifestation of a great operations and maintenance team. Without the entire team focused 24 hours a day, seven days a week on getting the mission off the ground, this could not have happened."

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