'Saving Guys on the Ground': A-10 Documentary Shows Stunning Mission

Screen grab from the documentary ‘Grunts in the Sky: The A-10 in Afghanistan.’
Screen grab from the documentary ‘Grunts in the Sky: The A-10 in Afghanistan.’

"A-10 savin' the day again, baby!"

That's what U.S. troops on the ground scream for joy after an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot swoops down low for a "gun run" in Afghanistan.

The stunning footage -- from both ground troops and from inside the cockpit -- has made its debut in the 2014 mini-documentary "Grunts in the Sky: The A-10 in Afghanistan."

The nearly four-year-old footage was recently made public after a Facebook group, Air Force amn/nco/snco, which is popular within the Air Force but isn't officially run by the service, pursued the footage through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Air Force hasn't fulfilled the FOIA, but the video recently appeared on Facebook and YouTube.

"There's just nothing that matches the devastation that that gun can bring," says A-10 pilot "Geronimo" at Bagram Air Base. Airmen in the video are mostly identified by their call-signs.

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"My whole soul and being is that guy on the ground," says another pilot.

The pilots interviewed for the documentary make the case for the plane: The A-10 can not only shoot at enemy tanks like it did en masse during the Gulf War, it can trail a single, moving target and take that out with precision too.

But the main mission objective isn't to coordinate, seek out and track targets. It's aerial cover.

"We hear the bullets flying [from the ground]," Geronimo says. "We hear [a soldier] taking cover, we hear him breathing hard. It becomes a very personal mission."

Air Force leaders have repeatedly said the A-10 (known as the Warthog, or Hog) -- one of the leading aircraft in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- will remain in service "indefinitely."

But while many an A-10 enthusiast would like to see the planes flying "indefinitely," the Air Force more likely means "into the foreseeable future."

In September, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, told Defense News that if the A-10 fleet does not receive new wings before the service life of the current wings runs out, some squadrons will begin retiring.

Nevertheless, Congress has maintained pressure on the service to keep the A-10 flying for as long as possible to keep troops secure on the ground.

"The ground troops that I work with -- when they think close-air support, they think A-10s," says Staff Sgt. Joseph Hauser, a joint terminal attack controller based at Forward Operating Base Ghazni.

"The reason for that is, they almost share the same mentality. If you were to say that there's a grunt in the sky, it'd be a Hog pilot," Hauser says.

Check out the mini-documentary here:

    -- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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