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Maryland Fighter Unit Arrives in Afghanistan

Four, of six, A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft from the Arkansas and Maryland Air National Guard taxi down Kandahar’s runway Jan. 13, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor/Released)

A-10C Thunderbolt II fighters from Air National Guard units in Maryland and Arkansas taxi down Kandahar’s runway Jan. 13, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor/Released)

Lt. Col. Paul Johnson mounts a wooden likeness of the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron insignia, an oriole with a lightning bolt, on the squadron commander's door at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as Lt. Col. Patrick McAlister, the squadron commander, background, admires the sign. Colonels Johnson and McAlister are deployed from the Maryland Air National Guard to the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing to support Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher/Released)

Lt. Col. Paul Johnson mounts a wooden likeness of the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron insignia, an oriole with a lightning bolt, on the squadron commander's door at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as Lt. Col. Patrick McAlister, the squadron commander, background, admires the sign. Colonels Johnson and McAlister are deployed from the Maryland Air National Guard to the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing to support Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher/Released)

Two Airmen from the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing construct a bench at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Maintenance troops built tents, work tables and benches for use in doing the paperwork associated with maintaining their assigned aircraft, the A-10C. The Airmen are deployed from the Maryland Air National Guard in Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher/Released)

Two Airmen from the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing construct a bench at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Maintenance troops built tents, work tables and benches for use in doing the paperwork associated with maintaining their assigned aircraft, the A-10C. The Airmen are deployed from the Maryland Air National Guard in Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher/Released)

Kandahar, Afghanistan -- More than 300 Air National Guardsmen of the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arrived on Kandahar Airfield to provide close air support throughout Afghanistan, relieving the Airmen of the 354th EFS, who have since returned home to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

A-10C fighters from the Maryland Air National Guard and Arizona Air National Guard were flown here by Airmen of the 104 EFS, Jan. 11 and 13.

"We're here to bring top quality, professional close air support for anyone on the ground who might need it, Marines, Army, ISAF forces," said Lt. Col. Patrick McAlister, 104th EFS commander. "We're here to either make a presence or bring the firepower they might need to bring down the enemy. That's our number one job."

This unit is scheduled to be deployed here for a couple of months, although some unit members have volunteered to remain for 120 days.

Along with this unit came several volunteers from other Guard units, such as from Fort Smith, Ark.; Alpena, Mich. and Willow Grove, Pa.

"We've brought all of our support personnel, maintainers, aircrew flight equipment personnel, intelligence personnel, and medical personnel," said Colonel McAlister. "It's a pretty big team. Everyone's been training and we've got a bit of experience. We've deployed in theater several times before so we also have some history here."

Lt. Col. Edward Jones, 451st Expeditionary Maintenance Group deputy commander, said one of the main things the team brings to the fight from the Guard is a lot of experience.

"If you look at the makeup of the squadron, the average flying time is probably 2,000 to 2,500 hours, as compared to an active duty squadron, where it's probably 500 to 1,000 hours," he said. "On average, our pilots probably have almost 1,500 to 2,000 more hours of flying time, and probably 500 hours of combat flying time. They've been around for a long time.

"The same thing goes with the maintainers. We have a lot of guys working on these jets that have been with us for 30 years. We have guys who've worked on these jets when they were brand new. So, we have a lot of experience there as well."

Colonel Jones said the 104th EFS also has the most modern A-10s in the fleet Air Force-wide.

"Our Guard jets, our Baltimore and our Fort Smith jets have the most up-to-date software in the Air Force," he said. "In the total force, we do bring a lot to the fight."

Colonel Jones, a pilot and who had always deployed as a pilot until now, said he is serving as a maintenance officer here for the first time.

This team of Guardsmen brings together people from all walks of life. While sharing the common bond of military service, individual members may hold positions ranging from corporate executive to electrician to college student in the civilian world.

"We have a very interesting group of people," said Colonel McAlister. "This is not their only job, so they bring other aspects to it."

"I think it's going to be interesting to see the footprint we leave on this place," he said. "I really hope we're able to do some good work outside the fence. At the same time, I'm looking forward to the work we do inside the fence for quality of life. I hope the presence that we make and the mark that we leave here is positive."

Brig. Gen. Guy M. Walsh, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing commander, greeted the members of the unit as they arrived. He was their wing commander in Baltimore prior to taking command of the 451st AEW at Kandahar.

"General Walsh was our wing commander up until June 2009," said Colonel McAlister. "So, here we are again working for our former wing commander. It alleviates a lot of apprehension because you're coming to work for a boss that you know and who was well liked as well. We know him, work well with him, and we have a good rapport."