By Tech. Sgt. William Farrow , 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 02, 2007
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- For almost 20 years, the imposing silhouettes of 355th Fighter Squadron A/OA10s have been a familiar site above interior Alaska.
Lt. Col. Quentin Rideout, 355th FS Commander, brought that run to a close with the final tactical Arctic Hawg sortie Tuesday.
"This event signals the end of an era in Alaskan aviation," said Brig. Gen. Dave Scott, 354th Fighter Wing commander. "The Arctic Hawgs have served this country and the state of Alaska with distinction and will be revered always by Icemen past and present."
This month, the 355th FS completes formal deactivation, with the majority of its aircraft headed to Moody AFB, Ga.
The 355th FS has had a long and storied history since its activation in 1942 at Hamilton Field, Calif. The unit was the first to fly the P-51 Mustangs in Europe and initially escorted bombers to targets in Germany during World War II.
In April 1944, the squadron shifted from bomber escort to ground attack duties, flying dive-bombing and strafing missions. After D-Day, in support of General Patton's 3rd Army, the unit helped establish the model for the joint close-air-support operations of today.
The unit was deactivated after the war and reactivated as the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Myrtle Beach AFB, S.C., in 1956 flying the F-100D Super Sabre.
The 355th TFS supported NATO training with numerous deployments between 1958 and 1965, including deployment in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1963.
The unit went to Southeast Asia and deployed to Phu Cat AB, South Vietnam, in 1968, flying CAS, interdiction, search and rescue, and helicopter escort missions until 1970. The unit flew more than 14,000 combat sorties in the F-100D.
The squadron returned to Myrtle Beach in late 1970 and converted to the A-7D Corsair aircraft. In the fall of 1972, the 355th TFS deployed to Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, to fight in the Southeast Asian campaign.
In 10 weeks of combat, the unit participated in the Linebacker II campaign, generated over 4,000 sorties, and was credited with 22 rescues of downed Airmen. The unit returned home in April 1974.
In February 1978, the 355th TFS received the new A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, the "Warthog," to become the second operational squadron in the nation's first A-10 wing.
In August 1990, the 355th TFS returned to combat operations, deploying to King Fahd International Airport, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.
The unit inflicted heavy damage to enemy armor and artillery emplacement, cut off enemy supply lines, and conducted combat search and rescue missions. The squadron went on to claim its share of the 4,200 artillery, tank and other vehicle kills in Operation DESERT STORM.
After deactivation in 1992, the 355th FS was reactivated at Eielson in 1993 flying the A/OA-10 aircraft.
The unit's primary mission now included air-strike-control, CAS, interdiction, joint air attack team, escort, and combat search and rescue.
In October 1998, the 355th FS deployed to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Only two months later, the Warthogs saw their second tour of combat duty over Iraq while participating in the Dec. 16-19, 1998, Operation DESERT FOX strike missions.
In 2.5 months, the 355th FS flew 597 combat and combat support sorties leading up to, then conducting, National Command Authority directed strikes on Iraqi military facilities and suspected weapons of mass destruction storage areas. They achieved 100 percent target-hit rate.
The 355th FS has deployed twice to Bagram AB, Afghanistan, in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM within the past three years. In 2004, the unit deployed for approximately six months, flew more than 2,000 combat sorties and logged more than 7,500 flying hours. During their last deployment to Bagram AB in 2006, which lasted for four months, the unit flew more than 1,500 combat sorties and 5,000 hours in the skies over Afghanistan.
The A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specifically designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
However, 354th Fighter Wing historian Mr. Don Fenton said the first two A-10s arrived at Eielson in 1981 and were actually assigned to the 18th Tactical Fighter Squadron which had just transferred from Elmendorf AFB.
In 1991, the 18th FS converted to F-16s. On July 1, 1991, the 11th Tactical Air Support Squadron activated and assumed responsibility for the seven OA-10s that remained after the 18th FS conversion. In August 1993, the 355th FS replaced the 11th TASS and within six months additional OA-10s began arriving until the unit received its full compliment of 22 aircraft.
The 18th TFS continued to operate A-10s at Eielson until 1991 when the unit converted to F-16s.
As this chapter in Eielson air power closes, Gen. Scott looks forward to the next important mission the Iceman Team is set to undertake.
"Throughout Air Force history, Airmen have flown, maintained, supported and developed the U.S. air power mission," General Scott said. "As we shift focus from A-10 combat support to Red-Flag Alaska and the vital training it provides, we continue to embrace our heritage, maximize current capabilities and build for the future."