Lieutenant-Colonel Michal Polidor: the Air Force prepares for another 75 years of aerial dominance
“GO STRAIGHT TO KEATING. IT IS EXCEEDED.
Those were the first words we heard over the radio on the morning of October 3, 2009. In response, 1st Lt. Aaron “Finch” Dove and I, who were the lead aircraft in a formation of two F-15E Strike Eagles, we are positioned for immediate takeoff from Bagram airfield in northern Afghanistan. Flying near the speed of sound, we were over the Keating combat outpost in less than nine minutes.
Our mission that day to defend and rescue Keating was a defining moment for anyone involved in the battle. How we performed and flew, how we worked together and the decisions we made; how we innovated, solved problems, and ultimately succeeded, were in many ways byproducts of the knowledge, training, and culture accumulated by the Air Force since its inception in 1947.
We used it all that day.
Once they arrived, the gravity of the situation was disturbing and overwhelming. Using the F-15E’s array of sensors, coupled with old-fashioned visual surveillance, we saw utter chaos on the ground. People were running in all directions, much of the Keating outpost was on fire and muzzle flashes could be seen pointing towards the compound from all the surrounding mountain peaks, engulfing the small American base in blanket of enemy fire.
Before dropping the weapons, it was first imperative that we establish with precision the location of the 103 friendly soldiers. Once we identified all friendly positions, we immediately began using the F-15E’s lethal ordinance against enemy forces in an attempt to push them back from Keating.
Shortly after we dropped our first bomb, other US military aircraft from all over Afghanistan began to arrive over Keating. Due to the rugged mountainous terrain and limited communications with ground controllers, it has become our duty to safely manage the ever increasing traffic jams of planes offering their assistance. As my training depleted our arsenal of weapons, in addition to working as makeshift air traffic controllers, we continued to stay above our heads as we took on the new role of coordinating air armada bomb strikes.
As the sun began to set, the bravery of the men on the ground at Keating, coupled with the overwhelming and constant support of the airmen in the sky, finally turned the tide of the battle. Suffering over 250 casualties, the enemy eventually retreated and Keating was saved. However, eight American soldiers gave their lives to defend this small outpost in northern Afghanistan.
As I reflect on my role that day, I feel proud and honored to be part of a legacy of American airmen who, since the end of World War II, have controlled the skies of every battlefield contested by United States.
As the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Air Force this year, it is important to recognize past accomplishments and honor the sacrifice of so many. However, make no mistake, the nation’s Airmen are acutely aware of the challenges ahead and understand that relying on the legacy of the past to counter evolving threats is a losing formula.
I am proud and honored to continue to serve in an organization that encourages innovation, drives change and expects excellence. These virtues, coupled with a selfless desire to serve, are embodied in the great men and women of the Air Force and are the characteristics that will enable another 75 years of air dominance for our nation.