Warthog

157 Comments

All photos in this dispatch made on March 1, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield.

Kandahar, Afghanistan
23 March 2010

The mission required crossing a bridge that had been blown up a couple hours earlier by a suicide car bomber.  The attacker hit a convoy from the 82nd Airborne, killing American soldier Ian Gelig.  Now with a hole in the bridge and recovery operations underway, our mission was cancelled.  So I called the Air Force to see if they were busy.  Yes, it turns out, the Air Force is busy every day, but Captain Kristen Duncan took me down to the ramp where the A-10 “Warthogs” are parked.

Lt Col Tim Eddins adjusts g-suit.

Two pilots were gearing up to fly from Kandahar over to neighboring Helmand to support a British unit.  The A-10 “Warthogs” are slow—not supersonic—but fantastically agile.  The aircraft dart like dragonflies and seem to change direction against the laws of physics.  The A-10s can turn so fast that they can break the laws of healthy physiology, and can cause a pilot to pass out and crash his airplane.  And so pilots wear G-suits to help counter adverse fluid dynamics.

The helmets offer no ballistic protection.  Helmets that ground troops wear can stop bullets, and have done so in Iraq and Afghanistan on many occasions, usually knocking out the wearer.  I remember a Marine Major in Mosul who got shot in the head.  He said it knocked him out cold.  He said it wasn’t pleasant getting shot in the head, but he was downtown in Mosul back in the action when I asked about it.  Army Lieutenant Colonel Terry Jamison also got shot in the helmet in the same city, Mosul.  When I asked LTC Jamison about getting shot while flying his Kiowa Warrior helicopter, he said the bullet somehow missed his head but ventilated his helmet.  (I saw the helmet.)  Pilots wear light helmets because of the hard turns, plus some high-G accidents can cause neck injuries.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Murphy is an A-10 pilot from Baltimore.

Lt Col Murphy flies with the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from the Maryland National Guard.  In his day job, “Captain” Eric Murphy is a commercial pilot who flies A320s but today he’s not flying British tourists traveling within the United States.  He’s going to Helmand Province to cover the British “Royal Welsh.”  I remembered some Royal Welsh from Iraq.  There had been much fighting.  A lot of killing that went both ways.  They had been Men of Valor.

As Lt Col Murphy crawled in, I wished him luck in covering the British, but didn’t say that some of those British soldiers are my personal friends.  It was good to see the A-10s heading out there.  The Brits appreciate it.

Flare dispensers under each wing.

A-10s have more tricks than Harry Potter, such as the flares designed to lure heat-seeking missiles away from the engines.  Over these battlefields, pilots often pop the flares as “We see you” warnings to the enemy.  If the enemy is in the open and no civilians are around, they are unlikely to get a friendly flare warning, but sometimes it’s better to hold off on the big weapons; the enemy might be fighting from a built-up area.

Today, Lt Col Murphy’s 30mm cannon is loaded with 1,150 rounds.  The 30mm can destroy tanks, but believe it or not, typically will not penetrate the walls around Afghan homes.  When the 30mm fires, it’s almost unbelievable.  The bullets don’t fly in a laser-like stream, but sort of spray in a lethal mist, as if the cannon is shot-painting a swath with huge bullets.  If the enemy is in the open, the cannon is like a weapon of mass destruction.  When people are hit with M-16 bullets, the wound is often more like a couple small holes, but when bodies get hit with weapons this large, they fly in pieces.

A-10 cannons are tilted down so that the pilot can fly level while strafing.  This is important: In Mosul, in 2004, an F-14 was strafing downtown after a massive truck bomb in December and many other bad surprises (I was not there), and the pilot told me he was fixated on the target.  Since the F-14 cannon is tilted up for “Top Gun” air combat, the pilot had to nose down the F-14 and was diving straight into the target and nearly crashed.  The hard turn to avoid crashing damaged his aircraft and the pilot had difficulty landing on the aircraft carrier later that night.  Since the A-10 gun is tilted down, it can fly level and strafe without accidentally crashing into the target.

Lt Cols Tim Eddins and Eric Murphy climb up the telescoping ladder into their jets and go through one of many checklists.  Watching Air Force missions and all the checklists is reminiscent of watching space launches.  Checklist after checklist of obscure terms.  Occasionally they say things normal people might recognize, like “brakes.”

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Hewish · 8 years ago
    Nice to see the co-operation between the US A-10s and the British footsoldiers, something that always warms the heart!
    Fantastic photographs and a well told story, an inspiration as always.

    Many thanks, and, on behalf of any welshmen, Diolch yn fawr iawn to the Americans who support our boys and who ur boys support.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Muir · 8 years ago
    Standby, as in, it is impossible to think of war coverage without Michael Y. Stellar work, man.
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    Chris Smith · 8 years ago
    Michael Yon is this generation's Ernie Pyle. I can think of no better compliment — except that Yon takes it to a whole new level by not only covering the grunt in the field in an up-close and personal way, but also in brilliantly portraying the big picture.
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    Donnette Davis · 8 years ago
    So well written, I nearly understood everything :-) I managed to get the "brakes" bit also!

    Thank you for the awesome pictures and commentary - reading this dispatch is like watching a movie unfold, step-by-step.... Brilliant! This article is so well worth sharing, I am reposting to FB and A few other Social Media Sites.
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    John Dough · 8 years ago
    The A-10 was supposed to have been retired years ago. By scavenging from older A-10's they have been kept in service. I hope the Air Force is planning to replace this aircraft with something similar when these airframes finally give out. We will need this kind of air support of ground troops in perpetuity. I've talked with Air Force A-10 pilots who have flown in Iraq and Afghanistan who think of themselves as part of the Army ground troops. One pilot choked up as he told of a small army group that searched him out to thank him for saving their behinds in a vicious battle. Many pilots just bomb and strafe the bad guys. A-10's are in close combat support of our guys. God Bless them all.
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    Greg · 8 years ago
    A-10's are so compelling. Michael could you obtain interviews with ground crew, pilots and thankful soldiers about what it's like to work with these planes?
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    Lee Keller King · 8 years ago
    The Air Force's treatment of the A-10 (and its pilots) is one reason many think that close-air support should be taken away from the Air Force, which doesn't want the job but won't give it up. I have heard many times that Warthog pilots are at a career disadvantage to fighter pilots, and it is obvious to me that the Air Force would prefer to concentrate on pretty fighter jets, rather than ugly (but extremely useful) close-air support planes.
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    John Bunce · 8 years ago
    As a kid we had a National Guard Unit in Connecticut that flew the A-10's, I remember hearing them as they flew over the trees super low, banking and following the terrain. What a sound they made! After I joined the marines, I heard the 30mm cannon fire for the first time, what a sound!
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    Tommy Barrios · 8 years ago
    The warthog is such an inglorious animal that naming the A-10 such is rather an inept attempt to label the aircraft's look rather than it's capabilities.

    If one where to do that, then Dragon or some other such mythical destructive beast would be more appropriate. The A-10 is truly death from above for anything on the ground that it can see. The aircraft was designed to take out the wave of Soviet tanks in Europe, but it has grown into a more formidable beast as a solid ground support fighter bomber capable of complete destruction of ground targets one moment and then able to engage and destroy air threats of every kind the next moment!

    A truly combat versatile and deadly machine!
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    ex- fighter jock · 8 years ago
    A-10s are the business when the enemy doesn't have fighters, whereas they would have been deathtraps during a 'hot' Cold War (hence the out-dated prejudice I guess). I once flew with a tank driver on a CAS training mission. He was so scared when he saw what aircraft could do to tanks he left the tank corps two months later!
    Keep up the great work Michael.
    p.s. liked the line about 'brakes' - my old a/c had over 330 buttons, dials and switches, so if we didn't speak in acronyms we'd never have got airborne.
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    Jesse · 8 years ago
    I noticed the tail markings show these A-10's are from the Maryland ANG. Turning up the wayback machine I remember working on these birds back in the 80's when I was in charge of the A-10 ACS Field Return Shop at Fairchild in Germantown, MD. Made a number of trips to the Martin field in Essex and also over to Suwan South Korea to work on the systems in the field.

    Anecdote: I was sitting in the cockpit of an Md ANG A-10 running tests on the ACS with the Field Test Set pod in my hand. The cable snaked over the edge of the cockpit and down to the test set sitting on the tarmac. The cable accidentally wrapped around the canopy switch and caused the canopy to close - on the test set cable! Bent the edge of the canopy. I was not invited back.
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    Walt Lucken · 8 years ago
    I remember seeing one flying a demo over Heidelberg back in 76.
    All us basebrats hanging out in front of the PHV bowling alley thought it was a model airplane.
    Great article Mike.
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    IronMike · 8 years ago
    I grew up near Camp (now Fort) Drum. The A-10 pilots would practice their target approaches by cruising along the highway at about 30 meters altitude and shadow cars driving along route 11. Many times I have been amazed to find that a jet has snuck up behind me as I was driving. It was always a mixture of fear and pride to think about what the Warthogs could do and to know they are on our side.
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    Dr. Kenneth Noisewat · 8 years ago
    IIRC the MD A-10s were picked up from the MD factory by their first pilots and flown to their base a few miles away?

    Also, glad to see we're helping the Welsh, who gave us Rick Rescorla:

    http://www.rickrescorla.com/

    You couldn't make that guy up in a thousand years of fiction, a man like that is worth ten thousand leechf--k TBTF bankers..
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    ckb · 8 years ago
    Back in the 90's I did a lot of primary (civilian) flight training at Martin airfield. I remember sharing the pattern with these guys on a number of occasions; nice to see them hard at work! Thanks for the report.
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    Diana · 8 years ago
    I was an air traffic controller when I was in the Air Force, and the A-10 was my favorite airplane to watch. They turn like break dancers. Great visuals.
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    spratico · 8 years ago
    Great dispatch, Michael. The A-10's are a great asset to our military. A 'tool' that I hope we keep in the toolbox in the future. I remember hearing about Capt. Kim Campbell landing a badly damages A-10 after a mission over Baghdad. Awesome pilot flying a great aircraft. Here's the story;
    http://www.aircraftresourcecenter.com/Stories1/001-100/0016_A-10-battle-damage/story0016.htm
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    jim · 8 years ago
    I used to deer hunt near Stillwater in the adirondacks and watched them sneak up on me dressed in blaze orange a few times. Sure was spooky to see those guns pointed right down your throat. They's sneak in from behind and scare you to death. It was fun. Some of the pilots hunted around there too.
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    thomas pomilla · 8 years ago
    I got my start in the MDANG working hydraulics on the A10 before I switched to active duty. The A10 still holds a special place in my heart. I call it God's jet built by the hand of God himself. It is the most maintenance friendly and reliable air craft I have worked in my 18 years of service. Great article nice ot see some glory given to the Wart Hogs!!!
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    HawgDriver · 8 years ago
    I was fortunate and proud to have flown the A-10 in the early 80's when the wall was still up. Like all A-10 pilot's my first flight was solo at the young age of 23. I'm glad after all these years that the A-10 has gotten its recognition and that the military has spent the money for all the upgrades. What I would give to be in Afghanistan or Iraq with my fellow aviators. It isn't the sleekst like the F-15/16/18, but its the workhouse in the battlefield. Check Six.. By the way Michael Yon does a great job, but the cannon aiming down so the plane can straight and level is new to me??
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    Charles · 8 years ago
    I worked on those A-10 when I was in Afghanistam with the same unit that is there now. The MD Air national guard. I was a Aircratft Fuels Systems Mechanic. I can't working in any fuel tank on any plane is fun. But it makes it easier when your actually deployed. Gives you a sense of duty. I worked on those for 14 years full and part time. One thing about A-10's. They fly so slow they need to worry about bird strikes from the rear.
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    thegreywolf · 8 years ago
    I remember watching A 10's on the flight line when McLellan AFB, before BRAC closed it down. In my opinion these are beautiful planes, though most say they are built ugly. At the museum there, there is a shot up one from the Gulf War. If I decide to join the AF, and not the Army after college, I would want to fly these.
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    Bigdaa · 8 years ago
    There is only one thing uglier than a Warthog: Two Warthogs!
    Thank you Fairchild for the Great Equalizer that the A10 is.
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    A&N · 8 years ago
    Saw your work on Fox too....awesome photos Mike. Great job as usual. Thanks
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    shawn nottingham · 8 years ago
    Any airman to have had any contact with the A-10 dosent need anything but a picture of it to stir up emotions of an underated thing of beauty. Its not pretty,like alot of us,but it gets the job done.So long england afb La.You are missed.
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    A&N · 8 years ago
    Years ago we watched these A 10s practicing over the desert around Tucson, AZ. out of Davis Monthan Air Base. They are beautiful . Always sent a shiver up your spine to watch them.
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    Jim · 8 years ago
    WHat is often forgotten about these birds is just how tough they are. The weaponry and agility are often hot topics on this plane, but the sheer ability to support flight even when heavily damaged is a thing of beauty on this plane. Many gulf war veterans have stories of how they were shot up and shot at and the plane kept on rolling like it was another day at the park. The Pilot sits in a tub inside the cockpit that can withstand 20mm gunfire! There was one particular instance of an A10 during Desert Storm that was unbelievable. This one plane had taken a direct hit from anti aircraft weapon that pierced a hole in the wing the size of a dinner table. The debris was ingested into the right turbofan, which typically means the motor will be completely disabled. Not in this case! Not only did the A10 return successfully to base with the huge hole in the wing, but the engine merely "burped and chugged" before continuing to provide thrust to assist in getting the plane home safe. Testimony that this "ugly" bird is unbelievably tough!
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    James R McCain · 8 years ago
    The A-10s are awesome. My cousin was an A10 jock and instructor pilot with the 917th. There are a couple of errors in the story. A-10 30mm rounds will most certainly completely penetrate the walls of an Afghan home with ease especially the depeleted uranium armor piercing rounds and the HE rounds would make short work of them. Also while the A10 30 mm cannon is slanted downhill to help with sighting the planes cant fly level as any video will show the angle of attack is just much less. They are awesome machines and this was a tribute to them.
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    Marcus · 8 years ago
    At leasty one of those A-10s is from Fort Smith, AR. They used to fly F-16s. This is their first deployment with the 'new' aircraft. Tusk 'em Hogs!
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    Josh · 8 years ago
    Nice work Mike! Your stats on the ordnance is spot on. I was an Air Force AMMO troop with the A-10s at Bagram in 06. keep it up.
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    LA DOc · 8 years ago
    That's the prettiest aircraft I've ever seen.
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    Rescueman · 8 years ago
    I loved the picture of the HH-60 flying over the A-10, what an amazing pair of USAF aircraft. Arguably the two most important capabilities the USAF provides to our combatant commands, and unfortunately to two of the most poorly supported. The AF and Congress need to support the great Airmen who fly and maintain these by ensuring we have enough of them. They have some of the highest optempo of any forces in all of DoD!!!
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    Droozer · 8 years ago
    I remember the training flights of an A-10 reserve unit based at Richards-Gebauer in Kansas City in the late 80s, early 90s. The way the planes could dance at tree top levels was amazing. Like IronMike posted, they often used I-35 for target practice. There is nothing like driving down a road and having an A-10 coming from the opposite direction 40 ft above you.
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    NK · 8 years ago
    A venerable aircraft designed and assembled on Long Island. Aircraft is a bit of a misnomer, it is a flying cannon. The airframe is literally built around the gun. One of my college roomates wrote the flight simulator program for Fairchild-Republic back in 78-79. His boss told him to allow the instrument only landing program to go to negative 50 feet before exploding. His reason? all of the lieu. cols.and majors who were coming into the flight program through the simulator would fly 'seat of the pants' rather than the needles, and on landing take the simulator to negative 50 feet 'feeling' for the ground, and the program should call them on it. And they did just that.
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    nahkhii · 8 years ago
    Great to see those Hawgs! As a mechanic and aircraft maintenance officer with experience on more than half a dozen airframes in over 20 years of active duty, I found them to be the best aircraft in the inventory; great at what they were designed to do and easy to maintain. Not as pretty as the go fast types, but as I was taught as a young lieutenant by a Vietnam veteran air-to-ground pilot, wars are won by killing the enemy on the ground by the dozens, hundreds or thousands, not one at a time at 20 thousand feet.
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    Jack Spectre · 8 years ago
    The A-10 is my favorite warplane of all time. It's a warrior designed for getting it's hands dirty and coming home alive. Another excellent dispatch as usual. BTW you are the only blogger I've ever donated to.
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    Darrell · 8 years ago
    Those 30mm guns... someone once said, "If dragons were real, that's what dragons would sound like..."
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    Don McGee · 8 years ago
    What a nice piece of work, Mr. Yon. Outstanding!
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    Voodoo 6 · 8 years ago
    Nothing better than being on the ground in a developing situation and look up to see a Hawg laying some flares to say hello...
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    Joshua · 8 years ago
    Background on the A-10 retirement myths - having grown up around them at the 917th and served around Hog drivers elsewhere, here's my two cents: planners tried to keep the ugly old fella out of Desert Storm and use only F-16s for CAS. That fellow was asked to retire. After the A-10 earned its keep in the Gulf some folks wanted to get rid of it in the drawdown that followed. The Army said they'd happily take them and the AF decided they wanted to hang on to the Hogs after all. After OEF and OIF kicked off and once again the Hog proved itself, upgrades in the works for years were finally applied, though the serving fleet was reduced by about a third. The remaining aircraft are receiving avionics upgrades to include glass cockpits, Sniper targeting pods (I think), and some other goodies that also make it more suitable to counter-insurgency warfare in addition to its CAS capabilities. Unfortunately, the planned engine upgrades were scrapped due to cost - a situation of one upgrade or the other. In the meantime, the production line at Ogden opened back up and new tail numbers will join the upgraded A-10C fleet. Last I read, these mean bastards are scheduled to be around until 2028.
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    Gregg Edwards · 8 years ago
    Great work Michael! Keep safe!
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    KMO · 8 years ago
    I have always loved these aircraft. I grew up in the southern Adirondack mountains, and the A-10's based somewhere down near Albany would fly over our house on a regular basis. I have been in the mountains watching them fly 'nap of the Earth' and it is astounding what these birds can do. There was one time I recall where I was looking DOWN on the A-10 from one of the hills near the Sacandaga Reservoir, and he was flying straight at me before he pulled up and went over my head at maybe 200 ft AGL. Totally awesome. I have never thought of them as ugly, I think they are very cool looking. Definitely a case of form following function, but a huge amount of thought went into making them almost impervious to light arms fire from the ground and it shows in the design. The whole thing is basically a flying cannon, with other armament to round out the capabilities.
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    Trashhauler · 8 years ago
    A couple of corrections to comments:

    The A-10's formal name is the Thunderbolt II. Its pilots gave it the name "Warthog," as a way of showing their cheerful affection for the beast.

    2. It's funny how those stories about the Air Force not liking the Warthog and CAS not being a desired mission always seem to come from people who haven't worn an Air Force flight suit. Every unit that can drop bombs practices CAS every day. Sometimes it is necessary to use something with a bit of speed just to get to the fight in time, so fast movers do CAS as well. (Two of my pilot training classmates - including my roommate - died while practicing CAS. Neither was flying an A-10.) When the Wall fell, the Air Force was reduced by 40% and the Army no longer thought it would fight against massive tank formations. So most of the A-10s were parked until the First Gulf War showed that we still needed them. The decision was siimilar to the Navy mothballing most P-3 sub hunting aircaft around the same time. It wasn't because "fighter pilots like fast aircraft."

    One nice feature about the A-10 was the ability to be "hot turned," which means it could be routinely refueled and rearmed with the engines running. It's not needed or done now, but was a necessity in Central Europe given the possibility of attacks by enemy aircraft on our forward operating bases.
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    Chuck McKinley · 8 years ago
    I was a "Load Toad" on the A-10s back in the 80s at England AFB, LA working for the 74th AMU, 23 AGS, the "Flying Tigers." This brought back so many good memories, especially seeing the GBUs (I remember when they first came out) and remembering trying to get them loaded without "busting the load." I was fortunate enough to work A-10s not only at England AFB, but also at Suwon, Korea. These were my first jet, and I've never lost that love for them. It's good to see them still in action and glad to see they are still appreciated by our sister service. Hang tough fellow loaders and pilots. You are still making a difference in this world!!!
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    L Rodriguez · 8 years ago
    I remember scanning the National Training Center horizon during training operations and seeing the business end of the A-10 focused on me, the opposing forces (OPFOR) grunt on the ground. I was glad those A-10's were on our side overseas! One hears nothing of its approach until it's too late. My father flew an A-1E in close support in Vietnam -- that aircraft was slower, uglier and just about as old then! Now my son will be a grunt on the ground in Afghanistan with the A-10 on our side. Keep em' flying! Great job, Michael Yon.
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    Norton Jackson · 8 years ago
    What a fabulous article... the Warthog is a tremendous piece of equipment and it really gets the enemy's attention when it arrives on site. Our thoughts and prayers are with our brave soldiers and their families back home. When I'm flying commercially, these are the gentlemen I like to see up front!
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    Willy Grover · 8 years ago
    Broke my heart when they Brac'd Willow Grove. Worked on the A-10's since 1989. Deployed everywhere with them. Nothing gives you a reality check more abrubtly than catching a jet with clean wings that you launched earlier full up. Got caught up in a battle between a blue state govenor and a red state president.
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    John Siwicki · 8 years ago
    The other day I was taking a bicycle ride out on country roads near Lexington, Michigan and all of a sudden heard a jet very close. I looked up and it was a Warthog less than 100 feet over my head, a second later another one passed over at the same low altitude. I assume they were flying out of Selfrdge ANG base in Mt. Clemens which is about 40 miles south of Lexington. This morning two flew right over the house about 30 to 50 feet above the trees. Again, I didn't see or hear them until they were directly above and going past - which means if I were the enemy I would have been dead about 15 seconds before I would have known they were there.
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    Jason Cleck · 8 years ago
    M.Y., Great article on a forgotten (but most effective) airplane. Recognized one of my babies from the MDANG right away. Thanks for the great read!. Jason
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    George · 8 years ago
    The unit currently in Afgan is the 188th FW/184th FS from Fort Smith, AR. Currently, two ANG units will share 4 month deployment cycles,(2 mos each). Baltimore flew those aircraft over there and flew them for the first two months, and Ft Smith will fly the last two months and them fly them back. I believe some of the MD pilots stayed for the transition, possibly longer. So the 184th FS is there right now, protecting our forces. About 1/2 the jets are from MD, the other half from AR.

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