Duluth-based F-16s of the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on a two-month close-air-support rotation. The deployment is the unit’s first since completing a two-year conversion from older F-16s to newer F-16 Block 50 airplanes in April, according to Duluth’s Aug. 13 release. In the deployment run-up, the wing “completed an intense, focused training program,” said 148th FW commander Col. Frank Stokes. “The Bulldogs are the most prepared, best equipped, and most highly trained unit I have ever had the privilege to witness,” added Stokes. Pilots and support personnel rotated to Nellis AFB, Nev., for training three times in the last year, flying suppression of enemy air defense sorties at Red Flag there early this year, states the release. The 300-airman-strong contingent left Duluth for Afghanistan between Aug. 5 and Aug. 11. (Duluth report by TSgt. Scott Herrington)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.