Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, Capt. Paul Johnson of the 353rd Fighter Squadron, Myrtle Beach AB, S.C., was on search and rescue duty when he was tasked with finding a Navy F-14 crew that had been shot down deep in Iraq. It was Jan. 21, 1991, the fifth day of Operation Desert Storm. Johnson, now a major general and the director of operational capability requirements for the Air Force, said he and his wingman, Capt. Randy Goff, spent nine hours together in the air that day. “The thing that strikes me about it is how many people came together”—many who had never met or spoken before—all “willing to do whatever it took to accomplish the mission,” he told Air Force Magazine. Johnson, an A-10 pilot, said they spent a lot of time searching, were diverted to look for SCUD missiles, and then thought the rescue mission had fallen apart because he was not able to establish radio contact with the pilot. He was low on fuel and conducting a final search when he finally got in touch with the pilot and “everything came together.” Johnson was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions that day, including “three hours of intensive searching deeper inside enemy territory than any A-10 had ever been,” and flying at 500 feet to pinpoint the Navy pilot’s location. “It was his superior airmanship and his masterful techniques at orchestration that made this rescue happen—the first in the history of the A-10 weapons system,” his award citation reads. (Read more about Johnson’s rescue mission in Hog Heaven from the December 2010 issue of Air Force Magazine.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.