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Capt. Alfred Rosales, an F-16 pilot with the 13th Fighter Squadron, stands in front of his jet prior to a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The squadron will replace Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, next month.

Capt. Alfred Rosales, an F-16 pilot with the 13th Fighter Squadron, stands in front of his jet prior to a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The squadron will replace Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, next month. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Capt. Alfred Rosales, an F-16 pilot with the 13th Fighter Squadron, stands in front of his jet prior to a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The squadron will replace Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, next month.

Capt. Alfred Rosales, an F-16 pilot with the 13th Fighter Squadron, stands in front of his jet prior to a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The squadron will replace Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, next month. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Rosales sits in the cockpit of his jet while getting ready for a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Rosales said he’s looking forward to “getting out to support the troops on the ground” and “making sure we’re doing the right thing out there.”

Rosales sits in the cockpit of his jet while getting ready for a recent training mission at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Rosales said he’s looking forward to “getting out to support the troops on the ground” and “making sure we’re doing the right thing out there.” (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Pacific edition, Tuesday, May 1, 2007

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan

Being second has its benefits.

As the 13th Fighter Squadron heads into its final weeks of training before deploying to Iraq, its pilots are tailoring their flying drills to lessons learned from the squadron that went first.

The 13th will replace Misawa’s other F-16 fighter squadron, the 14th, at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad this month.

“It’s a huge advantage for us,” said Capt. Larry Sullivan, 30, a 13th pilot from Lexington, Mass. “It’s the ‘Wild Weasels’ and the 35th Fighter Wing that’s deployed over there. Half of us went first. We’re trying to exploit the advantage that we have.”

In Iraq, the 13th will assume the same role as the 14th, which since January has been providing close-air support to U.S. and coalition troops on the ground.

That job has been the 13th’s primary training focus for the last six months, but it’s a new mission for Misawa’s Block 50 F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Historically, Sullivan said, the Wild Weasel mission has been offensive, a combination of destroying enemy surface-to-air missile systems and air-to-air combat.

But Misawa’s F-16s were tasked to fight the war on terror with an “air-to-ground mind-set,” Sullivan said. “That shift has been challenging in that we’ve had to change our baseline knowledge.”

The 13th perhaps has no better teacher than the 14th.

“They’re encountering contingencies every day that maybe they didn’t plan for or even think of and they’re communicating that to us,” said 1st Lt. Christopher J. Morton, 26, a 13th Fighter Squadron pilot from Emmett, Idaho.

The squadrons’ pilots maintain almost daily contact with one another, exchanging after-action reports from the 14th’s combat sorties and video footage from the bomb-wielding downrange jets.

“So it’s not a pretend scenario we’ve developed,” Sullivan said. “It’s the real thing.”

In Iraq, the 13th’s pilots could be tasked to provide top cover to coalition troops by perhaps looking for snipers on a rooftop or anybody approaching that could be an ambush, Morton said. “And being ready with air power, as well, if something goes wrong,” he said.

The lower the pilots fly, the more intense the threat, which in Iraq, comes mostly from shoulder-mounted weapons and small-arms fire, such as machine guns.

To get ready, Sullivan role-plays in training. “We have a targeting range up north. Every time I roll in with those live weapons, I take a breath and I try to put myself in that scenario: I’m not in Japan, I’m in Iraq and this attack has to be successful,” he said.

If he misses, soldiers on the ground could die, he said, and if he focuses too much on the attack and ignores his safety parameters, he could get hurt.

While the pilots say they feel prepared for the job that lies ahead, training has its limitations.

“As much training as you put in to it, nothing can really prepare you psychologically for being in that ‘no kidding’ combat scenario where there are lives at stake for the first time,” Morton said. “I think that’s just something that’s going to start when we get there.”

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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