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VMA-513

The author spoke with Captain Jarret Stricker about his experiences of flying the AV-8B from Bagram AB, Afghanistan.

«FOR SOME reason or another, it seems that the bad guys knew when to hit our ground patrols. The worst times for us to fly were right before sunset and at first morning light. Our goggles and night sensors (pods) are slightly hindered during these periods. The enemy would launch hit-and-run attacks against the ‘friendlies’ when they were close to the Pakistani border. I remember a couple of missions in that area flown with Major Mike Franzak. One of these was when we were on the tail-end of a Combat Air Patrol mission. We were about ready to head back to Bagram when the call came from Special Forces that they had just left their firebase at Shkin and were under attack. What made this mission stand out over some of the others was the fact the enemy was becoming more sophisticated. This time they were using mortars and were methodically walking the rounds in toward the ‘friendlies’ on the ground. This proved that the ‘bad guys’ had had training on how to use that weapon more accurately.

«When we first received the call, we were at least 40 miles (64km) away. In response, we went to full power and as we got close, we noticed some bad weather was moving in over their area and it was close to sunset, so the visibility was diminishing. We always train for going in low when there is a low weather deck. Sure enough, we were forced down under our normal 25,000ft (7,620m) all the way below 10,000ft (3,048m). We got the grid and Major Franzak immediately went in low, even though it wasn’t dark enough for our NVG to work well. Probably the best weapon we had was simply a show of force. When the ‘bad guys’ heard our jets down that low, they would break off the engagement and move on. However, this time it didn’t seem to work because the intensity of the ground fire didn’t fall off. I took high cover and Major Franzak initiated the attack. He made a run with his 25mm and covered the area the shooters were in. This scattered and broke them up quickly as they made a run for the border. We dropped our ordnance on their location and pressed the attack, even though the weather had turned bad and our NVG was at a disadvantage. We accomplished what we set out to do — protect the friendly forces on the ground.

«Another mission I recall was when we were sent into a new area called ‘Gatling Echo’, which is in the eastern part of Afghanistan. A five-man team had come under intense ground fire and what I remember the most about It was the loud sound of machine gun fire on the radio, and their voices being out of breath. The cloud cover was down about 1,700ft (518m) and the mountain peaks were about 7,000ft (2,133m). We tried to push down and get under it, but we couldn’t see a thing. We had to be careful at this point, because we didn’t want to get down so low that a shoulder-fired missile (Stinger) could get us. Trying to pick out anything with our cameras was like watching a television screen that had whited out.

«Fortunately, some Apache helicopters, flying from a nearby base, had come in low to attack the ridgelines where the ‘bad guys’ were hiding. We still had our ordnance intact and were able to move out of the area because the friendly forces were no longer under fire. Even with all the sophisticated gear we had, pushing down through thick clouds in a mountainous region like we were working in was extremely dangerous.

All in all, our most effective weapon was our guns (25mm cannon), especially when we had to deal with a lot of enemy personnel. One pass with the guns had a distinct effect on enemy troops. The state-of-the-art equipment we had on our Harriers enabled us to accomplish the mission with only six aircraft.»

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