Ride along with F-16 pilot Nate “Buster”Jaros, as he takes us and his wingman for a night mission over Iraq to help an Army convoy in trouble.

It was a cold winter night over Iraq. It was 2003 and OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) was in full swing and US fighter aircraft were getting used to their regular un-impeded patrols over the country. Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch had recently ended and “Shock-and-Awe” was completed earlier that March as well.

All of Iraq was our playground.

At the time, just two fighters, and a tanker were the only things airborne, 24/7 over the war-stricken country. And maybe a few UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) too. Air operations were slow actually, and modern airpower was more of a presence than an active participant…


We were with the 510th Fighter Squadron, out of Aviano, Italy. The Balkan Buzzards as we were sometimes called, but more commonly known in the Viper community as just “The Buzzards.”

Our whole squadron and 20+ jets were deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and was supporting OIF as well as OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) with daily and nightly two-ship sorties. A squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles was also with us, and we each alternated VUL (vulnerability) times over Iraq to maintain this 24/7 coverage.

Every four or five hours, a two-ship of Vipers or Mud Hens would launch from “The Deid,” head north along the Persian Gulf. The section would get gas entering Iraq and proceed to their assigned tasking, while also relieving the other squadron that was finishing their business over the country after a five-hour long sortie.

Airborne refueling before going in country
Airborne refueling before going in country

We typically had missiles (both long and short-range) on board as well as an assortment of 500 pound LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and GPS guided JDAMs (Joint Directed Attack Munition). We were a Block 40 F-16 squadron and also carried our primary “tool” the LANTIRN Targeting Pod. The Targeting Pod was an Infra-Red telescope basically that was cockpit controllable, and had a laser designator for LGBs.