During a recent raid on a terrorist stronghold in a remote Afghan
village, U.S. ground forces came under enemy fire. They called for close
air support, and shortly thereafter, an F-16 Fighting Falcon dropped
munitions to eliminate the threat.
Benjamin Freeborn, 510th
Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, distinctly remembers that
“What really struck me about that particular mission was this village
was small, and our troops took more risk than they could have in order
to protect the civilian population,” Freeborn said. “For us it’s more
important to protect the population and support the government of
Afghanistan than it is to apply massive fire to the ground.”
The 510th EFS at Bagram Airfield delivers precision fire to protect U.S.
and coalition forces in support of Operations Freedom’s Sentinel and the
NATO Resolute Support mission. While many fighter squadrons have
multi-role missions and train across the spectrum of air threats,
surface threats and close air support strategic strikes, this team
focuses mainly on the close air support aspect. Freeborn said the
airpower they deliver helps ensure the safety of the ground forces they
“Oftentimes we spend a couple of hours just flying over watch,” Freeborn
said. “Then when a firefight kicks off, we have almost no warning and
have to get there quickly to provide that coverage for the ground
Freeborn said building and maintaining a positive relationship with the
F-16 maintainers is paramount in ensuring operations run smoothly.
“The trust we need to have in them is amplified because we fly
single-engine, single-seat aircraft where there’s not a large margin for
error,” Freeborn said. “Our aircraft maintenance unit is among one of
the best I’ve had the chance to work with.”
With operations going around the clock, keeping these aircraft mission
ready in a combat zone is a daunting task for the 510th Aircraft
Maintenance Unit; but they are up to the challenge.
“Everyone here is focused on the mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Seth
Lininger, 510th AMU superintendent. “We just make sure we can get
aircraft in the air 24/7.”
Lininger said when an F-16 returns with empty rails—meaning they dropped
munitions—maintenance Airmen do an end-of-fire inspection, load new
munitions and ensure all the aircraft systems are functional before
preparing for another flight.
“We have a nonstop flow of aircraft into the air,” Lininger said. “We
want to make sure our ground troops are always covered.”
The close relationship between the flying squadron and maintenance unit
started well before this deployment; the Airmen are also stationed
together at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and have been preparing for their
mission here together for over a year.
Lininger and Freeborn said the 510th “Buzzards” take great pride in
their work and come together as a seamless team to ensure mission
accomplishment. As an F-16 pilot, Freeborn said his job is satisfying
because he sees the immediate impacts of his role, which is all about
taking care of the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines on the ground.
“There’s nothing as satisfying as hearing, ‘good effects’ from the
ground party,” Freeborn said. “You get that immediate feedback when you
drop a bomb in close proximity to friendlies, and it hits the target and
protects civilians and friendly troops. That’s the most rewarding
The 510th EFS and 510th AMU are part of the 455th Air Expeditionary
Wing, the Air Force’s premier counterterrorism wing in Afghanistan.
Headquartered at Bagram, the wing has geographically separated units at
Kandahar and Jalalabad airfields in Afghanistan and provides decisive
airpower throughout the region.