Story by SrA Krystal Wright on 04/20/2018The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing said farewell to one of their teams, the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, who returned home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, April 11 after a six month deployment at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
During their deployment, the "Rocketeers" supported Operation INHERENT RESOLVE.
The big mission is to defeat ISIS and help stabilize the region. Our number one mission though is to protect our friendly troops on the ground, said Capt. George "Swash" Arbuckle, 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F15E Strike Eagle pilot and chief of weapons.
"One of (our) objectives is to make it inhospitable for (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) along the middle of Euphrates River Valley as well as support the Iraqis; in the southern part of Syria, the Rukban Refugee Camp; and our other regional partners," said Lt. Col. Matthew "Edge" Swanson, 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander and F-15E pilot. "We don't directly defend the refugee camp, but we provide stability for the region that then allows those people to be safe."
The unit utilizes F-15Es to accomplish these goals, which is a duel-role fighter jet. It is capable of performing both air-to-air missions and air-to-ground.
The Strike Eagle has a radar system that can detect ground targets from long ranges. The on-board weapon systems officer can designate the ground targets while, simultaneously, the pilot is able to detect, target and engage air-to-air targets. The aircraft is also able to deploy weaponry with high level accuracy regardless of time of day or weather thanks to its navigation and infrared targeting system. Furthermore, the F-15E can carry most weapons in the Air Force inventory and can carry a diverse selection of weaponry.
"I think the squadron was very successful at operating in a really complex environment," said Arbuckle, a native of Spring, Texas, who is stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB. "I think our biggest impact was the amount of ground (we took) from ISIS in the last six months."
"We've continued to make it inhospitable for ISIS to operate in the areas we protect as well as protect U.S. forces against overwhelming and heavily armed adversaries, and attacks from the air," Swanson added. "(We've) been very successful in continuing to degrade ISIS's fighting ability."
"We have chocked them and now they no longer have freedom of movement in the Euphrates River Valley," Swanson continued. "They no longer control vast swaths of land like they used to."
One example of their success is how they discovered an ISIS convoy. Troops on the ground utilized 336th EFS's information to intercept the convoy, which was carrying electronics like radios, computers, quadcopters and more. Their discovery was the largest exploitable electronics cache in the history of the area of responsibility.
"It happened because of us all working together to discover how ISIS changed their tactics and then interrupting that new tactic," Swanson said. "That will be exploited for months; we will be able to work with other countries to continue to take down ISIS's network for recruiting, funding and supplying."
Another notable accomplishment was how they helped stopped the first combined arms attack on U.S. forces in 15 years.
"It was the first combined arms attack on our forces since the Gulf War. Combined arms is heavy artillery, armor and infantry. We halted it in just a few hours and without a U.S. casualty. Even our coalition partners didn't have a casualty besides a guy who fell and hurt his arm."
Both pilots gave glowing remarks about the 332nd Maintenance Squadron for their work, which allowed the pilots to keep flying and doing the mission.
Those guys are out there working 24/7 regardless if it's cold, rainy or windy and keeping the jets running smoothly. The F-15Es will sometimes come back from a mission broken and a few hours later those same jets are back in working order, Arbuckle praised.
With the numerous achievements the team accomplished during their six months, it was difficult for them to pick a "proudest moment."
For Arbuckle, his proudest moment would be the attacks they did on ISIS, which helped liberate cities from ISIS's control.
"At the beginning of deployment, (we) literally started off watching the cities being run completely by ISIS," Arbuckle said. "Over the next couple of months (we) bombed ISIS facilities and then watched life go back into those cities. Now, at night, we actually see lights on. People are going back there and living there again."
That wasn't Arbuckle's only moment he was proud of.
"The American troops as well as (local allied forces) were out in the desert for three days building basically a defensive compound," he recalled. "I was able to do basically a show of force, which is flying 500 feet right next to them, spitting out flares in order to boost their moral and show them air support is right overhead."
"Honestly, I think it was a privilege I think all of us feel the same way to protect the guys on the ground," Arbuckle said. "A lot of those guys have come down and visited us and told us how much it meant to them that we were flying overhead. We fly 24/7 overhead protecting those guys."
Swanson shared similar sentiments.
"Two different special operations commanders have reached out to me and they just wanted to say you guys have done a great job'," Swanson said. "Things were going bad for both of them and they wanted the Strike Eagles overhead. They got all these other people supporting them from all around the region and they wanted us. That's an incredible compliment to the entire team. That lets us know we have made an impact."
The 494th EFS from Lakenheath AFB, England, replaced the "Rocketeers" and will be picking up where they left off, providing that same level of support.
(Source: Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fact sheet)