About a dozen South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets and the 300 citizen-soldiers who support them are on their way to southwest Asia for an Air Expeditionary Force rotation.
Although the South Carolina Air National Guard could not release where they are headed, the 169th Fighter Wing and 157th Fighter Squadron will be on mission in the theatre of operations with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.
“They’ll be conducting a variety of different missions: close air support, which is supporting our ground forces and allied ground forces on the ground in that area of operations,” SC Air National Guard Col. Akshai Gandhi said. “They may also be providing offensive and defensive counter-air, and that’s basically protecting airspace, or holding airspace. It will primarily be defensive counter air operations.”
“They’ll be conducting suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses,” he said. “That’s kind of, the modern-day evolution of the ‘Wild Weasel’ mission from Vietnam which is the Swamp Fox specialty and primary mission set.”
The unit is expected to be deployed for about four months. It includes pilots, personnel with air crew flight equipment, intelligence, operation support, air field managers, maintenance, weapons systems and logistics specialists.
“We’ve been tasked to continue a mission in the Southwest Asia area of operations,” Gandhi said when asked about the assignment. The SCANG would not release any other details, citing security issues.
The unit is based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover and is comprised entirely of South Carolina Air National Guard members.
“They’re all citizen airmen so they’re Air National Guard officers and enlisted troops,” Gandhi said. “So they’re taking time away from their families and their civilian professions. So we get an incredible amount of support from their families, from their civilian employers.
Gandhi said the South Carolina Air National Guard was also grateful for groups such as the Patriot Guard Riders and USO “who help support our airmen and airmen’s families while these great Americans are off serving our nation and our national interests.”