A-10: The most terrifying yet beautiful sound I have ever heard

warthogAs news of the impending divestiture was confirmed by New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant told the Tucson radio listening audience of the James T. Harris show, of his encounter with the A-10 and the pilots who fly it.

Many of the residents of Tucson, home of Davis Monthan Air Force, have taken pride in hosting the base and the men and women who serve there. However, few knew how much the A-10 meant to so many others and why….

The interview:

In his own words….

“It happened in late 2008, in northwest Afghanistan. I was, at the time, a team chief of a small team working with the Afghan National Army in a very remote area – remote enough that the only resupply we could get was parachuted into us. So food, ammunition – everything had to be air dropped so we were pretty much on our own.

“We had been in numerous engagements the previous month, and we had heard that the Taliban had drawn a red line and challenged us not to cross that line, and that is just not in our nature. So we loaded up the patrol, separated two sections, and moved from the fire base down to separate roads. We split the team into separate sections, and joined with our Afghan National Army forces.

“I was in Alpha section; Bravo was moving parallel. We were moving from compound to compound doing what we call a knock-and-talk, talking to the locals and trying to see what intel we could gather about the line that the Taliban had drawn. We successfully made it through the series of five compounds on the verge of actually calling the mission for the day, and we had completed what we set out to do.

“We started taking small arms fire. There was an RPG that was fired, impacted between me and an Afghan national soldier. It knocked him to the ground, and I rushed forward to make sure he was okay, to pick him up and move him back, and at that point it just completely exploded.

“We started receiving machine gun fire from three different sections, and we were pretty exposed on the road that we were on. We decided that we needed to find a better area to assess the situation. We had a pretty good idea of where we were receiving the bulk of the fire from, so we rushed towards the compound that we knew the enemy was firing from, cleared that compound. As it happened, the Afghan National Army soldiers that were with us, ended up being cut off. We ended up securing the compound. At that point, we did a quick assessment and ended up having six U.S., and one local interpreter that was with us, and a solo Afghan National Army soldier. We started taking pretty significant fire and we set up a defensive position called to the Bravo section and reported our position. We sent up smoke flares to let them know where we were so they could confirm our position. The plan was they were going to move over and help us reinforce that position, and then we were going to continue the attack.

“As they moved towards us, they started receiving pretty heavy fire and they were not able to push across the open field, and it left us pretty isolated out there.

“The Taliban started moving in pretty heavy. We moved a couple guys up to the roof, and they could see Taliban fighters moving from the river that was parallel from our position and also from the south. We knew that they had the potential of manning up to 200 reinforcements, and we could see that they were moving pretty quick. We were completely cut off.

“It was six U.S., one local interpreter, and one Afghan National Army soldier. We held that compound by ourselves for a while.

“Slowly but surely, we engaged numerous Taliban as they were moving up and killed a number of them, but we were quickly overwhelmed. The Captain that was in my section called out that he could see Taliban fighters had actually breached the compound. There were more in the courtyard. Four or five of them were moving around the building.

“The interpreter was able to tell us what the Taliban commander was saying, and he was directing them to try to breach the building that we were holding.

“They continued to move in.

“At one point, we actually had Taliban on the outside of the room that we were in, and one of them managed to stick his weapon through the window and fire a burst. Hit my Captain in the arm and we retuned fire. It was so close that we ended up taking a grenade and throwing it out the window to push them away. My Corpsman started putting a tourniquet on the Captain. As he was doing that, another burst of machine gun fire came through the window and actually hit the Corpsman in the helmet. It knocked him to the ground and luckily it grazed his helmet, did not completely penetrate, but it really rung his bell.

“I would be lying to say I wasn’t scared. I think we all were. I think we realized how serious it was.

“We called out over the radio immediately and told him that we needed to cut off the compound and couldn’t let any more of these bad guys come in. We had weapons on the vehicles. We had to move the 50 Cal and automatic grenade launcher in as close to the compound as possible to keep anyone else from getting in that compound.

“We also had an over watch position with the sniper up there, and we cleared him to fire on anyone outside the building. You know, he confirmed that he saw a lot of movement on the outside, and we gave him the “All Clear” to engage. We told him that we didn’t have any friendlies outside and anybody outside was a bad guy.

“The Captain managed to get a tourniquet on him; stop the bleeding. One of my Sergeants from the other side started calling out that we had three or four Taliban pushed up against the wall on his side. They fired of couple of RPG’s and hit the wall that he was up against, and it completely collapsed forcing him into the room that we were in and slowly pushed everybody back into that single room.

“There was a point when I was kneeling on the radio calling the Joint Tactical Air Controller requesting to get a gun run ran parallel to where we knew the Taliban was coming up from the river to see if that could push them back.

“He started working that air mission for us. Initially, he told us that there was an F-15 on station, but they had to check off because they were running low on fuel. Within about five minutes, he reported that he had two A-10 that were checked in on station.

“We were facing approximately 50 Taliban that were moving towards them, and about 12 to 15 Taliban in the courtyard. We were heavily outnumbered and pushed into a back room.

“We were excited to hear that they had air on station and came up with a quick plan. We decided we were going to throw a bunch of grenades out the opening of the building we were in and just going to come out guns blazing.

“We made one attempt to do that – threw out the grenades and had a Taliban fighter step into the corridor and fired at a burst that hit my Captain again in the same arm. At this point, we realized that it was now or never.

“We got everybody loaded up again, threw a bunch of grenades again, and came out shooting. The number one man immediately encountered two Taliban and cut them down. I had a Taliban fighter on my left that I was forced to shoot, within about 8 feet of me. We continued around the building and came across to more fighters. We engaged them, and then we rushed about 30 meters towards a wall that we thought might provide some cover.

“While we were doing that, there were a couple of Taliban what we didn’t see that opened fire and ended up hitting my Corpsman. He absorbed the first round of machine-gun fire. Three rounds hit his rifle, picked him up off the ground, he landed on his back. I thought he was dead. I turned briefly to look at him and saw that he reached up to his pistol that was on a holster on his body armor in the front, and while he was laying on his back, started firing and pushing himself back toward the building.

“Meanwhile, the JTAC told us that the A-10s were getting ready to come in for a good run.

“We knew we had to get to the wall that would provide us cover. We managed to get over there and had to engage with a couple of guys as we made it and were absolutely shocked that we all made it around the wall.

“I’ll never forget looking up and seeing the first A-10. We looked back, we had killed 8 Taliban while exiting the building, and we knew there were some 30 left that were moving towards us.

“I remember seeing the flash from the bird coming in, and I saw the rounds hit. From my vantage point, looked like they were about 50 meters away. It was the most terrifying yet, beautiful sound I think I’ve ever heard.

“Talking to the rest of my team later, they all concur. It really made a difference. It was close. It was enough that I know it made you guys think twice about following us.

“We were forced, with our wounded, and by the time the fire fight had lasted three hours, so we were pretty dehydrated, a lot of smoke inhalation, you know, the compound we were in took about 25 direct hits from RPG’s along with the concussions, not only from the RPG’s, but the grenades we were throwing out the windows. We were all pretty messed up.

“We were moving about half the speed of what we would have liked, trying to egress out of there. We were forced to move about 800 meters and during that movement, as we went, the A-10s kind of circled around; gun run, after gun run.

“I wouldn’t be telling the story right now if they weren’t there.

“We were moving slow and turned on our infrared strobes and immediately, the JTAC told us that the A-10 pilots could see us from the strobes; it was dark by this time, and they had a visual which made us feel even more confident. The two A-10s just circled around as we slowly moved our wounded 800 meters back, and we linked up a vehicle that was already loaded. We put our most extreme wounded inside the vehicle and a couple guys had to jump on the hood. I jumped on the tailgate, and we joked back to the fire base.

“We made it back to the fire base, but the A-10s stayed on station while our Bravo section was starting their egress. They stayed in place trying to support them until they knew that we were loaded up in our vehicles.

“Once we got back to the fire base, we were dealing with injuries. We ended up having to Medivac the Captain, who had lost a lot of blood, and another guy who was shot in the leg. We had to deal with the Navy Corpsman, who had shrapnel from when he took the burst of machine gun fire. His rifle had exploded and he sustained shrapnel from the rifle. Then we had a number of guys that were pretty shaken up from the concussions, and guys that were suffering from pretty bad smoke inhalation, coughing up blood things like things like that.

“We all make it out, and the Captain is actually still on active duty.

“When we heard the pilots were in Baghram, we rushed out there. As soon as I got to Baghram, I tried to seek them out to talk to them personally. They, unfortunately, had rotated back already and when I was back stateside, I had a couple of Air Force personnel that I knew that I used to help track down both pilots. I was successful. One of them was at Moody Air Force Base, and one was an instructor (in Tucson). I managed to communicate with them both on telephone and by email. I told them really just how much we appreciated it. I told them that we really couldn’t describe in words what they did that day, what it meant for us. We sent them plaques, personalized from the team, just small tokens of our appreciation and told them that as far as we’re concerned, they’re both part of our family and will always be for the rest of our lives. It’s a date that myself and the rest of my team celebrate each year, and on that anniversary, we reach out to the two pilots because we consider them to be as big a part of that day as us.

“We fought our way out of the compound, but there is no way we would’ve made it past that wall.

“I wouldn’t be able to tell the story if it wasn’t for those two pilots that day and I will always be in their debt, for the rest of my life.”

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Fans of the A-10 warthog are circulating a petition in hopes of gathering 100,000 signatures by September 16. Facebook groups Stand for Protecting Heroes, Keep the A10 in the U.S. Military, and Save the A-10 deployed rapidly in defense of the plane that offers them their best chance of survival in war.

The Save the A-10 Thunderbolt II from retirement due to budget cuts petition (sign here) asks signers to “Tell the Obama administration to reconsider the retirement of the A-10 attack aircraft.