Colonel Campbell: A-10 fighter pilot at the battle of Takur Ghar

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These acts brought America to a screeching halt; nothing else that day seemed to matter. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and the destiny of a generation changed forever. This is a 10 part series about those serving in the military and how their stories paint a picture that shaped today's Air Force.)

"During 9/11, I was stationed at Osan AFB in Korea," said Lt. Col. Scott Campbell, 358th Fighter Squadron commander and A-10 instructor pilot. "I had just come home from the squadron. It was about 9:30 at night when I went back to my room. I turned on the TV to catch the news on Air Force News and there was a live shot of the Twin Towers with smoke pouring out of them. This was just after the first plane had hit. As I watched, trying to figure out what was happening, the second plane hit the towers."

"My name is Colonel Campbell. I entered the Air Force Academy in 1991 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1995. My first assignment was with the Navy in Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., where I went through a joint pilot training program. Half my training was with the Navy and half with the Air Force."

After watching the news of the attacks that night, Colonel Campbell headed back to his squadron knowing they would be called in. He and his fellow pilots began pulling their planes into the aircraft shelters and started performing increased threat condition checklists. According to Colonel Campbell, everyone was itching to get in a plane and get revenge.

"Most of us were bummed because we were in Korea," Colonel Campbell said. "The Korean A-10s and fighters weren't going to deploy because we couldn't leave that area of responsibility. Everyone was feeling upset because we were going to miss out of the opportunity to avenge the attacks. I was hoping that on my next assignment in January I would be able to join the fight."

Colonel Campbell left Korea in mid January and returned to Pope AFB, NC., and the 74th Fighter Squadron. At that time, he was tasked with helping combat search and rescue missions for Operation Southern Watch. Ultimately, he wanted to help Operation Enduring Freedom which was going on simultaneously with OSW. Shortly after a month, he would get his chance for payback.

The mission was Operation Anaconda and it kicked off to a bad start. The initial infiltration didn't go as planned. Army helicopters were getting shot up as they were dropping off troops. What was supposed to be a quick operation with limited need for air support, turned into a bad situation.

At the same time this was going on, special operation units were deploying a SEAL team on top of Mt. Takur Ghar. Unfortunately, there was an unexpected ambush waiting for them on the mountain which resulted in the aircraft taking fire. Before the helicopter crashed, a Navy SEAL fell from it and was captured by opposing forces. A Quick Reaction Force was launched to insert on the mountain, but was also shot down. A number of Army Rangers, combat controllers and pararescuemen were stranded on the mountain in need of help. Colonel Campbell learned the following night that he and a fellow A-10 pilot would be the first A-10 fighters in to help with close air support.

"The next morning, the squadron commander gave us a quick face-to-face brief and very quickly went over missions specifics," Colonel Campbell said. "We left within the hour and headed off to meet our refueling tanker. We hooked up to it and it dragged us into Afghanistan. When we got there, things were a mess. We had our maps and intelligence showing friendly units and our enemies all mixed together. But we really had no idea how bad it was until we got on our radios."

They checked in with the airborne warning control system and were given a frequency and call sign to use. As soon as they went to the frequency channel, three call signs from ground forces radioed in, screaming for close air support.

"Troops in contact' was being screamed over the radio by everyone," Colonel Campbell said. "We didn't have anyone telling us who needed help the most, so we had to listen to the radio and whoever was screaming the loudest or sounded like was in the most dire need was who we would support first. For our first real combat mission, it was pretty hairy. It was a good feeling to know that you're helping these guys break contact with the enemy."

Being able to help the troops on the ground and provide support was a huge accomplishment for Colonel Campbell. According to him, it was hard to think about the things that he had done the day before. He was so focused on what was in front of him. Because they had begun a new operation, they had to meet up with a new tanker to refuel them. The first time he really thought about all the things that happened because of Sept. 11 was the first time they met up with their new refueling tanker.

"It was a New Jersey Air National Guard tanker," Colonel Campbell said. "When we hooked up to them, they were fired up. They were telling us they had a lot of guys in the unit who were from New York and were firefighters. They also knew a lot of people who were cops or firefighters. That really hit me hard, it was very motivating. It was such a boost to our morale."

The events of Sept. 11 produced a new breed of fighter pilots and changed the way they're trained now versus to the way they were trained before the attacks.

"It's a lot different now," Colonel Campbell said. "When new pilots are done with their initial qualification training, they leave mission ready. When they show up to their unit, they can deploy within a few weeks and can be putting bombs on target. That was not the world we lived in back then. We've had a few short term engagements, but nothing sustained like we have now and nothing with close air support. Now we have entered an era where there are instructors who know nothing but that. We create a more capable pilot these days because we have to."