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Strike Eagle: On guard in Afghanistan

A Boeing built F-15 Strike eagle taxis into position for takeoff at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Randy Jackson/ Boeing Photo

A Boeing built F-15 Strike eagle taxis into position for takeoff at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

On the hot tarmac of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, two Boeing-built F-15E Strike Eagles are being called to duty.

The whine of their combined four Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines screams across the runway as they take off in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

For members of the U.S. Air Force’s 336th Fighter Squadron -- The Rocketeers -- their mission is clear: support coalition ground forces and patrol the skies above the rugged Afghan terrain.

“It is the weapon of choice for not only us, but for the ground guys as well; they’re the ones asking for the Strike Eagle,” says U.S. Air Force Capt. Reade Loper, an F-15E Strike Eagle Weapons Systems Officer with the 336th Fighter Squadron.

On his second tour with the squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Loper says the F-15E Strike Eagle carries its weight.

Two of the formidable jets are on alert at all times at the squadron’s fenced-in and secured operations hangar just off of Bagram’s main runway. The F-15Es can be deployed within just a few minutes to head to where they are needed.

F-15 Strike eagle

Randy Jackson/ Boeing Photo

U.S. Air Force Capt. Reade, an F-15E Strike Eagle Weapons Systems Officer with the 336th Fighter Squadron, inspects an F-15 before takeoff. The multi-role jet is supporting U.S. and coalition ground forces in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Loper says though he is often a few thousand feet above the ground fighting, the radio chatter he hears can be sobering.

“Anytime there’s a guy on the radio and you can hear in his voice, you can hear the gunfire coming from behind him and you can hear bullets ricochet off his MRAP [Mine Resistant Armored Personnel vehicle] and you’re able to come in, drop a bomb or just do a show of force, just scare the guys off -- that’s a memorable moment to me,” said Loper.

About 7,200 miles away from the runway of Bagram, skilled workers at Boeing Defense Space & Security’s F-15 production lines in St. Louis are hard at work, building the latest generation of the strike fighter.

Shared Pride

As F-15 assembly foreman Daniel Brement runs his hand over the smooth grey skin of the powerful jet, he shares Loper’s pride in the airplane.

“Everything we do here we do for the quality, we do for the Boeing name,” Brement said.

Boeing vice president in charge of F-15 programs Roger Besancenez also knows about that passion.

“When we wake up and hear about where the sharp end of the sword is, where the United States is reaching out, making sure our interests are protected around the world -- I think our folks immediately assume the F-15 is involved in that work,” said Besancenez.

Sound of an Eagle

Back on Bagram’s flight line, another F-15E Strike Eagle from the 336th Fighter Squadron taxis for takeoff on a mission.

The loud whine and then roar of the jet’s turbofan engines is a sound that both Capt. Loper and Boeing F-15 foreman Brement can feel in their hearts.

“It’s a real pride factor,” Brement said. “These things have a sound all their own. We can definitely hear one coming, and we call it the sound of freedom.”