Face of Defense: Pilot Supports Ground Fighters

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Like many avi­a­tors, Air Force Capt. Sarah Eccles, an F‑16 Fight­ing Fal­con pilot from San Anto­nio, caught the fly­ing bug at a young age. On her 15th birth­day, her father sur­prised her by tak­ing her to a Wright Fly­ers Avi­a­tion flight school.

As she sat in the cock­pit with the instruc­tor, oper­at­ing the con­trols and soar­ing through the air, Eccles said she real­ized she’d found her passion. 

She began tak­ing fly­ing lessons soon after that test run. At age 17, on March 20, 1999, she expe­ri­enced her first solo flight. 

“It was a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ing going air­borne, being in charge of this machine,” Eccles recalled. “It’s a huge respon­si­bil­i­ty, but such a con­fi­dence builder. I thought, if I could do this, what’s next?” 

After her high school grad­u­a­tion, Eccles attend­ed the Air Force Acad­e­my and then two years of pilot train­ing, where she ful­filled her dream and earned her wings as an F‑16 pilot. After fly­ing the F‑16 for four years, she reached a time all Air Force pilots come to: their Air Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Com­mand lead-in fight­er train­ing, for­ward air con­troller and air liai­son offi­cer tour, also known as an “ALFA” tour. 

This tour is a time when Air Force pilots take a break from fly­ing to serve in oth­er, career-broad­en­ing roles. Fight­er pilots may become instruc­tor pilots, oper­ate remote­ly pilot­ed air­craft or serve as air liai­son offi­cers, pro­vid­ing plan­ning, coor­di­na­tion, and exe­cu­tion exper­tise to mul­ti­ser­vice com­bat operations. 

“The tour is designed to bring expe­ri­enced fly­ers away from their main weapons sys­tem to oth­er jobs to use their expe­ri­ence and to gain some expe­ri­ence,” Eccles said. “The point is for pilots to broad­en their careers.” 

ALFA tours gen­er­al­ly are assigned to mid- to senior-lev­el cap­tains, but occa­sion­al­ly pilots will take their tours right after pilot training. 

Eccles chose to be an air liai­son offi­cer for the 682nd Air Sup­port Oper­a­tions Squadron here because her hus­band, Air Force Capt. John Eccles, a 15th Air­lift Squadron C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III pilot, is sta­tioned just a few hours away at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

Her respon­si­bil­i­ty as an ALO is to serve as the link between the Air Force and the Army in com­bat. What­ev­er the mis­sion, she is trained to help pro­vide close-air sup­port for ground forces. 

Eccles was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised as she stepped away from fly­ing an F‑16 and into the role of ALO, she said. 

“Being an ALO has been the most per­son­al­ly sat­is­fy­ing job I’ve had in my career,” she said. “Work­ing with the enlist­ed corps is amaz­ing. As a pilot, you gen­er­al­ly don’t get to inter­act with them at this level.” 

The job, she added, also has giv­en her the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rest, recharge and redi­rect her energy. 

Through her time as an ALO, she’s had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see how the Air Force and the Army relate and work with each other. 

Eccles recent­ly returned from a deploy­ment in south­west Asia, where she served as an ALO. Her job was to lead a crew respon­si­ble for direct­ing fixed-wing, close-air sup­port assets. At times, mis­sions and pri­or­i­ties would change because ground troops were attacked or ambushed. 

The ALO would take “911 calls” and have a map out to orga­nize and plan the close-air sup­port, she said. Eccles was in charge of direct­ing the fight­ers to the troops on the ground who need­ed help. She said her close-air sup­port expe­ri­ence as an F‑16 pilot came in handy dur­ing her deployment. 

On an aver­age day, Eccles’ air sup­port oper­a­tion cen­ter would receive more than 20 calls from troops in con­tact need­ing close-air sup­port, and, dur­ing one day, her team received and han­dled more than 100 calls from troops. 

Because of that day and sev­er­al oth­er suc­cess­ful coor­di­nat­ed mis­sions, her crew received the 2010 Air Com­bat Com­mand Team of the Year award. 

“Our proud­est moment there was being able to help out those who were in the thick of it,” Eccles said. 

The expe­ri­ence gave her a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the process that goes into pro­vid­ing close-air sup­port, she said. It’s knowl­edge she will able to take back to her fight­er squadron. 

The cap­tain said she will miss being an ALO when her tour is over, but she is excit­ed to be back in the air. She wish­es it were pos­si­ble to do both. 

“Of course I’ve missed fly­ing,” Eccles said. “I’d be lying if I said it was­n’t hard to watch the same planes I used to com­mand fly over­head and hear the jets rat­tle the win­dows. I know I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. My expe­ri­ence allows me to share my love of fly­ing with the 682nd.” 

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefence.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

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