When it comes to travel, there is an old adage that says, “Getting there is half the fun!” I considered those words and applied them to the context of my present situation, arriving at a very grim truth: the old adage is a steaming pile of crap! Whoever coined the phrase had obviously never been here, and if that person were to utter such mendacity in the presence of myself or the men I was traveling with, his or her demise would be slow and replete with unimaginable suffering. Tonight, or any other night in this God-forsaken place, getting there was no fun at all.

It was dark outside—as in, black as the inside of a coal-miner’s you-know-what at midnight. There was no moon, and no man-made light-source anywhere along our path, so even with the night vision goggles, the details of the landscape were barely visible. Our convoy made its way north along a rutted road that followed the edge of a dried-up lakebed, flanked by rugged escarpments and steep mountains jutting upward from the desert floor.

It was a painful, bone-jarring passage, and as our vehicle rose up and then came thumping down into yet another gigantic, truck-eating pothole, the other men with me erupted into a barrage of acerbic curses at the punishment our spines, shins, and craniums were taking.

Two U.S. Army MRAPs carrying Special Forces soldiers move through a target area during an Advanced Integration training scenario.
Two U.S. Army MRAPs carrying Special Forces soldiers move through a target area during an Advanced Integration training scenario.

We were packed into the up-armored Humvee like sardines, loaded for bear with body armor, helmets, goggles, weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, and the latest in techno-goodies that allowed us to see in the dark and…well, you get the idea. Tonight’s mission was pretty simple in in its objective: there was a particularly high-value individual (HVI) holed up in a village somewhere up ahead, and there were folks back home that desperately wanted to speak to him on a number of subjects. So we were to get in, provide the positive influence needed for him to come back with us, and then depart with as little muss and fuss as possible.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention that the HVI in question, a guy I’ll call Sheik Filthy al-McNasty, wasn’t a huge fan of us and those representing the red, white, and blue. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that McNasty was expecting us at some point, and had promised to not go quietly. Shocking, right?

Simulating a Russian-made MiG-29, an F-16C belonging to the 64th Aggressors Squadron takes off for an exercise from Nellis AFB, NV.
Simulating a Russian-made MiG-29, an F-16C belonging to the 64th Aggressors Squadron takes off for an exercise from Nellis AFB, NV.

So in an effort to dissuade us from stopping in for midnight tea and crumpets, current imagery showed a large number of McNasty’s Merry Marauders in and around the target building, as well as on the perimeter of the village, keeping a very close eye on all of the obvious infil and exfil routes. They had cool toys, too—RPGs, belt-felt heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft artillery, surface to air missiles, booby-traps, and a myriad of other lethal surprises.

Only the Strong Survive: The U.S. Air Force's Weapons School

Read Next: Only the Strong Survive: The U.S. Air Force's Weapons School

Not only that, but the air force of the nation providing sanctuary to this particular purveyor of pubescent petulance had decided that they didn’t want us coming to get him, either, and had thrown up a wall of fourth-generation MiG-29s and Sukhoi SU-27s as a deterrent to anyone arriving in the airspace without being put on the approved social calendar beforehand.

So let’s review: Bad guy and his associates hiding in a remote village in the mountains and desert of south-central somewhere. Check. An opposing, well-equipped and formidable air force. Check. Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) with modern sensors, Triple-A, and SAMs capable of chewing friendly air assets into ribbons. Check. Opposing ground force decked-out with all sorts of lethal implements and well-versed in how to repel uninvited guests. Check. Oh, and most importantly, the promise to do us and those like us irreparable harm while achieving the objective of world domination through terror and coercion. Check.

An SA-13 "Gopher" SAM system on display inside the Threat Training Facility at Nellis AFB, NV.
An SA-13 “Gopher” SAM system on display inside the Threat Training Facility at Nellis AFB, NV.

Now for our part, my entourage consisted of a twelve-man U.S. Army Special Forces ODA, or Operational Detachment Alpha, also known as an “A-Team.” These particular party-goers were from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), normally based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Also in our number were several U.S. Air Force combat control technicians from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, as well as Special Operations Forces JTACs, or joint terminal attack controllers. All of these men were highly motivated, highly-experienced operators who had seen more than their fair share of action in hot spots all over the world.

At our disposal for tonight’s festivus were a variety of air assets, including remotely-piloted aircraft like the MQ-1 Predator, close air support in the form of A-10s and B-1s, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters for combat search and rescue, F-16s to deal with the IADS, F-15E Strike Eagles for deep interdiction, B-2s and B-52s for raining down ridiculous amounts of hate, and a flock of F-15Cs and F-22s to deal with the air threats. There was also a number of other aircraft for command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and electronic and signals intelligence. Fortunately for us, those other aircraft could see everything, and it gave us a certain amount of comfort that even if we didn’t know what was lying in wait up the road, they did, and they’d be able to tell us before something really bad went down.

Yes, friends, now it’s a party–and we brought all our friends. Welcome to the graduation exercise of the  USAF Weapons School, where it’s not just jets. It’s Advanced Integrated Warfighting.

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In the next part, we continue along with an Advanced Integrated Warfighting exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, getting a first-hand look at part of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School’s final phase prior to graduation and earning the coveted “Patch.”

Stay tuned!