Are you in the fight?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shawn Cotton
  • 65th Operations Support Squadron
You are probably well aware of the 10,800 x 300 foot runway, the 55 million gallon fuel storage capacity, and the high frequency communications facilities at Lajes Field. As I write this, you may even be watching the arrival of the largest number of fighters to transit Lajes Field at one time in several years. But, from a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, how do you personally contribute to America's global reach and global power?

Let me recount a story from a different perspective to illustrate how Lajes Field is in the fight.

A little over nine years ago the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom, opening a new chapter in what was then called the Global War on Terrorism. I was then Captain Cotton, a newly minted mission commander for the most advanced bomber in the world. On night six of the operation I was the pilot of the lead aircraft of a two-ship formation of B-2s taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to strike targets in downtown Baghdad and across Iraq. Due to rapidly changing conditions, all of our targets were cancelled just before launch, and we received new mission data while airborne.

After transiting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, we climbed to our combat altitude and powered up our weapons. We entered Iraqi airspace on a cloudless starry night with a low dusty haze enshrouding the lights of the cities. Our first target, the Iraqi military communications hub in downtown Baghdad was the most important. We hit it with a 5,000 pound "bunker buster" fused to detonate after penetrating to the center of the building. When the weapon released, it felt as if the jet had hit a speed bump, then the sky lit up as though there had been a huge bolt of lightning.

After hitting the rest of our assigned targets, we still had weapons remaining. We contacted the Air Operations Center to ask for any emerging targets that we might be able to strike. While no more targets were available, they did have a message for us. It was simply "the president thanks you." Not fully understanding, we asked for clarification. It turns out that our first target was so important that it was being monitored at the highest level, and we had hit the mark.

In all, our formation dropped over 60,000 pounds of weapons, received almost a million pounds of fuel from five different tanker formations, and flew 36 hours nonstop.

But what does this have to do with Lajes, you might ask? Well, during that time a tanker task force was activated at Lajes Field, and the ramp was full of tanker aircraft. Lajes' runway, ramp and fuel reserves enabled our formation of B-2s to cross the ocean twice in one sortie, projecting combat power to the other side of the globe.

Today we have Airmen all across Team Lajes doing diverse tasks that contribute to vital strategic capabilities. Together we are part of a much larger team promoting freedom and justice throughout the world. Never forget that you really are "In the Fight!"