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Buzzards deploy, land safely

Aviano Air Base, Italy -- More than 240 maintainers and pilots from the 510th Fighter Squadron and 510th Aircraft Maintenance Unit deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 10.

To prepare for a large-scale deployment such as this one, both units underwent extensive preparation and training.

"We actually started about a year out with the aircraft, making sure major scheduled maintenance is complied with before we get there, so when we are on site we can focus on generating combat sorties," said Capt. Bethany Keller, 510th AMU officer in charge.

Captain Keller added that some maintenance can take up to a week to accomplish, which takes away time from getting the weapons and pilots in the sky.

The 510th FS pilots also trained for the deployment through various exercises and sorties.

"We starting preparing in August after the squadron deployed to the Combat Hammer exercise at Hill [Air Force Base, Utah] for live weapons training," said Lt. Col. Andre Poné, 510th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. "We dropped thousands of pounds of bombs and the pilots practiced surface attack and close-air-support training."

In addition to training at Hill AFB, the 510th FS and 510th AMU deployed to Turkey for the two week Anatolian Eagle exercise in June and the Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nev., in August.

"At Red Flag we trained in complex training scenarios that prepared us for combat," said Colonel Poné. "After we returned to Aviano, we started a detailed close-air-support training program.

"The whole squadron prepared by conducting numerous combat training exercises," he said. "We all studied the threat and prepared ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually."

All the preparation and training paid off - less than six hours after landing at Balad, some of the 510th FS jets were back in the air, conducting sorties over Iraq.

"We are actually really proud of that," said Captain Keller. "Having our jets flying sorties within six hours is pretty amazing. It's a testament to the hard work our guys did to get those jets ready."

Although the 510th FS and 510th AMU are technically two separate units, the success of their individual missions depends on each other.

Capt. Kevin Tanner, 510th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, said maintenance's goal is "to provide combat-ready aircraft for every air tasking order mission."

The accomplishment of that goal didn't go unnoticed by the Buzzard pilots.

"The maintenance team performed brilliantly in preparing the aircraft for combat operations," said Colonel Poné. "We deployed all 12 aircraft on-time to Balad, and the maintenance professionals had all 12 reconfigured, prepared and readied for combat less than 24 hours."

The two units exclusively train and deploy together, making the move from home base to downrange a seamless transition. The 510th FS and 510th AMU previously deployed to Balad during AEF 5/6 in May 2005.

"We're really one team," said Captain Keller. "When we're down there, we're all from Aviano. It's a one team, one fight kind of thing."