Afghanistan :: Airborne Sharpshooter
Air Force Capt. Michael Unruh '04 provides air support for ground troops in Afghanistan.
Captain Michael Unruh ’04 is a United States Air Force weapons systems officer with the 336th Fighter Squadron based out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. From Longview, Washington, he earned his B.A. in history and was a member of the Air Force ROTC program. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on May 7, 2004. He joined the Air Force so he could help many of his high school friends who were fighting on the ground as members of the U.S. Army. He was also interested in flying aircraft and the traveling opportunities the Air Force presents.
Captain Unruh is a weapons systems officer in an F-15E Strike Eagle. While the pilot controls the aircraft, the WSO (pronounced wizz-oh) is responsible for managing complicated aircraft systems for targeting, firing, and guiding the various weapons on the jet. He also backs up the pilot with basic airmanship.
Captain Unruh deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in 2008 where he played an instrumental role in providing air support to servicemembers on the ground. In one particularly noteworthy mission, the captain identified and destroyed a roadside bomb on a major coalition travel route and the camp of the insurgents who had planted the bomb.
While Captain Unruh’s primary aircraft is the F-15E Strike Eagle, he also has experience flying the T-34C Turbomentor, the T-1A Jayhawk, the T-39 Saberliner, and the T-38C Talon.
He was promoted to Captain June 4, 2008. When he is not flying or preparing for a flight, he serves as his squadron’s chief of safety.
"Every day and night," wrote Captain Unruh in an email, "as we were stepping out to the jets to fly combat missions over Afghanistan, we would pass a spray painted placard on the wall that read, 'The mission is an 18 year old with a rifle.'It may sound corny, but that's what it really came down to for most of us. For me, I know that I've had no greater feeling of satisfaction than when I've completed combat mission and I know that I've helped save American and coalition lives that day."
An Airborne Sharpshooter
By Staff Sgt. Shawn J. Jones
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.—While returning to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan from a sortie Oct. 7, 2007, four 336th FS Airmen flying in two F-15-E Strike Eagles received a request to investigate suspicious activity along a major travel route used by coalition forces. Soldiers had received a tip from local villagers that a suspicious group was congregating near the route.
In response, the airmen flew to the designated area and identified a group that looked like they were doing roadwork. But the aircrew decided to take a closer look, said Maj. Taran Hickie, a weapons systems officer who participated in the mission.
They swept down, executing a low pass, and used their targeting pods to see exactly what the suspicious group was up to, said the major.
It wasn’t roadwork.
"We observed them digging a hole in the road, placing an object into that hole and running wire out to the roadside,” said Capt. Michael Unruh, the other Strike Eagle’s weapons systems officer.
The group’s actions were telltale signs that they were planting a roadside bomb, Captain Unruh said.
The airmen relayed the information to the joint terminal air controller on the ground, who then received confirmation from Afghani locals that no roadwork was scheduled along the route.
Based on the information and intelligence, the Army ground commander decided the suspicious group’s intentions were hostile and gave the aircrews clearance to eliminate the threat, Unruh said.
The Airmen dropped three guided bombs on the insurgents, destroying the roadside bomb and foiling the insurgent plan.
After the dust settled around the target area, U.S. soldiers on the ground discovered weapons – including AK-47 rifles – and the materials used to make improvised explosive devices.
“It’s one of the most satisfying missions I’ve flown because I know for a fact that we saved the lives of coalition troops that day,” Captain Unruh said.
Back at Bagram Airfield, the soldiers presented one of the rifles to the airmen.
“The AK-47 is real evidence that the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing and United States Air Force are ‘all in’ the Global War on Terror,” said Lt. Col. Neil Allen, 336th FS commander.
“When our airmen see the AK-47, I hope they are proud of their past accomplishments, humbled by their vital role in our nation's joint fight, and eager to take it to the enemy whenever and wherever asked.”
Col. Daniel DeBree, 4th FW vice commander, was serving as vice commander of Bagram’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, at the time of the sortie, which he said was noteworthy for two particular reasons.
First, he said the sortie demonstrated how fighter aircraft can perform non-traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions to provide battlefield intelligence to ground commanders.
Second, the Strike Eagles were used preemptively to eliminate an imminent threat to coalition forces as opposed to their more common role of assisting ground forces who are already engaged with enemy combatants.
“This sortie was one of the few GWOT sorties where airpower was used to neutralize a threat before our ground troops were in harm's way,” Colonel DeBree said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Airmen of the 336th FS have accumulated nearly 17,000 hours of combat sorties and have dropped over 1.5 million pounds ordnance in support of America’s war on terror.
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Capt. Michael Unruh '04 serves on an F-15E Strike Eagle team supporting U.S. and coalition troops out of Bagram Air Force Base. In his role providing air support to servicemembers in Afghanistan, Unruh says "I've had no greater feeling of satisfaction than when I've completed combat mission and I know that I've helped save American and coalition lives that day."
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