FORT SMITH, Ark. (DAF) - It was a bittersweet day at the 188th Fighter Wing's Ebbing Air National Guard Base Tuesday. The first pair of A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" thundered eastbound for Moody Air Force Base, Ga., signaling the beginning of the end for the unit's fighter mission.
The 188th is currently in the initial stages of a conversion from A-10s to a remotely pilot aircraft and Intelligence mission. The Warthogs that departed Tuesday were the first two to leave the base as part of that change.
Over the course of the coming months, the 188th will lose two aircraft per month until June 2014, when the final two are slated to depart. Tail Nos. A0644 and A0614 were the first two to leave on Tuesday. Those two A-10s will join Moody AFB's 75th Fighter Squadron. Two 75th pilots arrived in Fort Smith via commercial flights and flew the former 188th jets back to Moody AFB.
"As a wing we've been flying manned aircraft for 60 years," said Col. Mark Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "But now we're in the initial stages of a very long conversion. While we're sad that our A-10s had to go, we're getting a cutting edge mission that will feature a substantial Intelligence and RPA mission. It's definitely bittersweet."
The 188th received its Warthogs in April 2007 and has set a number of wing deployment records in both maintenance and operations statistics while home station and also while deployed. The 188th deployed 10 A-10s and nearly 300 Airmen to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan in 2010.
The 188th logged the largest deployment in unit history in 2012 when it sent 10 A-10s and nearly 400 Airmen to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. While in Bagram, the 188th set deployment records in combat sorties (1,850), combat flying hours (8,000), precision guided munitions drops (375), 30mm Gatling gun rounds fired (60,000) and rockets launched (210). The 188th provided vital close-air support to nearly 500 troops in contact on the battlefield with an astounding zero air tasking orders missed.
"The 188th has accomplished some amazing feats in a very short time in the A-10 and it's sad to see them go," Anderson said. "We deployed to Afghanistan twice and set a number of records while saving countless coalition lives on the ground. It's a great aircraft and we're going to miss it."
During its last deployment, the 188th was heavily tasked, flying in three months at Bagram what would typically take two years to accomplish in a home station training environment in Fort Smith.
The 188th has also been among the leaders in the A-10 community since the planes first arrived on station more than six years ago. The 188th consistently led all five A-10 Air National Guard units in all key metrics, including mission capable and fully mission capable rates. While deployed to Bagram, the 188th maintained an 87 percent mission capable rate.
The next two A-10s are set to leave in October.
(Source: Department of the Air Force)