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Final Goodbyes: Last A-10s Depart (78-586, 78-638)

Tech. Sgt. Regina L. Bergonzi of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron writes a farewell message on one of the last two A-10s before it left the ramp here April 8, 2008 for the last time. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. George Worrall III)

Tech. Sgt. Regina L. Bergonzi of the 103rd Maintenance Squadron writes a farewell message on one of the last two A-10s before it left the ramp here April 8, 2008 for the last time. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. George Worrall III)

Pilots from Fort Smith, Arkansas flew the last of Bradley’s A-10s over the main hangar, giving the assembled crowd a chance to wave goodbye. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. George Worrall III)

Pilots from Fort Smith, Arkansas flew the last of Bradley’s A-10s over the main hangar, giving the assembled crowd a chance to wave goodbye. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. George Worrall III)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, East Granby, Conn. -- The final two A-10s stationed at Bradley Air National Guard Base departed April 8, 2008 with little more fanfare than the waves from several hundred airmen who were on-hand working at the base that day. 

"Its kind of bittersweet but it's a privilege," said Master Sgt. Richard G. Paquette, first sergeant, 103rd Maintenance Squadron, who served as a crew chief for the departure of aircraft 78-638. "The A-10 has been a big part of my life, not just the airplane but the whole lifestyle, the trips, the people, camaraderie, even going to war." 

A familiar sight in Connecticut skies for the past 29 years, Bradley's "Flying Yankees" flew the A-10 Thunderbolt II through the end of the cold war, and numerous deployments to Southwest Asia, including Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Aircraft 78-586, one of the first three A-10s delivered to Bradley for training in April 1979 and among the longest serving in the A-10 fleet, also departed. On hand for the goodbye was the NCO, now retired, who greeted the aircraft when it arrived and long
served as its crew chief.
 
"The day she left this base I came to say my goodbyes to her," said Senior Master Sgt. retired Leonard L. Beaudry, who was the aircraft's first crew chief and retired in 2000. "It's amazing how all the thoughts rush through your head as I rubbed her nose and
wished her good luck in her future, in Arkansas ... brought a tear to my eye as it was a part of my life that was leaving. Now I understand why they say 'when they fly off part of your life flies off with them.'" 

The A-10s were a new aircraft for Connecticut and the Air Force as well, so the evolution of the aircraft tracks with the aircrafts' achievements at Bradley. 

The Flying Yankees were the first Air National Guard unit to receive new A-10A aircraft direct from the factory on April 23, 1979 when aircraft 78-583 was flown in to Bradley from the Fairchild plant in Hagerstown, Maryland. On September 15, 1979 the Connecticut Air National Guard's F-100 fighter aircraft were officially replaced by the
Fairchild-Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II, affectionately nicknamed the Warthog. 

Once the pilots and maintainers completed initial qualification training, they honed their skills with deployments to demonstrate the A-10's power through the 1980's. Training deployments centered on Operational Readiness Inspections and Combat Readiness Training Sites in Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan, as well as Hawaii, Panama and more. Training for world-war III against the Armor of the Warsaw
Pact in Europe, the unit deployed to its designated war-fighting base in Northern Germany.

The cold war ended, but the 1990's tested the Flying Yankees in three deployments to Italy in support of U.N. and NATO forces in Bosnia. During the 1996 deployment to Aviano in support of Operation DECISIVE ENDEAVOR, the unit was the first A-10 unit to deploy with all aircraft fully modified with the Night Vision Imaging System on its aircraft. 

As the nineties ended and the 21st Century began, the unit participated in a string of Southwest Asia deployments, to enforce the Southern no-fly zone over Iraq, in support of Operation Southern Watch. While deployed in September of 2001, while having
most unit maintenance and aircrew deployed overseas, four home station aircraft were loaded and placed on alert status in response to NORAD tasking within two hours of the 9-11 attack. 

In 2003, came a test of the Flying Yankees then 24 years of experience with the A-10 to go to war over Western Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to flying the traditional close air support missions for which it was designed , the A-10s
dropped laser guided bombs and scoured the Iraqi countryside in search of ballistic missiles; two missions that had previously never been done by an A-10. 

A fitting final deployment as the entire unit supported operations with other guard units to set up a bare base in the desert to receive the aircraft and personnel. Beginning the deployment sleeping on the hangar floor, the base and facilities were prepared so the
unit could fly from the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, 2003.

The Flying Yankees' accomplishments with the A-10 are impressive.  We fired over 3,000,000 rounds of 30mm ammunition during our 29 years with the A-10, and flew 132,259.8 total hours. The Flying Yankees mastered the A-10 from a new unproven aircraft to a full day or night capable aircraft able to bomb with laser precision. 

Governor M. Jodi Rell and the Connecticut delegation led a yearlong battle with the Department of Defense following the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) decision to remove the unit's A-10 aircraft and maintain the facility and personnel for other missions. The struggle went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court before an agreement was reached and the lawsuit withdrawn. 

The Connecticut leadership secured the C-21 as an interim step to the new Joint Cargo Aircraft for Bradley in July 2006. The C-21 aircraft is considered a bridge to the future airlift mission to keep the unit flying until the Joint Cargo Aircraft is purchased and fielded. The 103rd Airlift Wing unveiled the C-21, April 3, 2007, and began flying airlift missions October 1, 2007.