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Boise 190th Fighter Squadron takes home win in A-10 fighter jet showcase

Boise-based pilots of the 190th Fighter Squadron are some of the nation's best to fly the A-10 fighter jet — they proved it during this year’s Hawgsmoke competition.

BOISE, Idaho —

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press 

Boise-based pilots of the 190th Fighter Squadron at Gowen Field are some of the nation’s best to fly the A-10 fighter jet — and they proved as much during this year’s Hawgsmoke competition Thursday.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II, known as the “Warthog” fighter jet, has played a pivotal role for the Idaho National Air Guard since the late 1990s.

This is the fourth win for the 190th Squadron “Skullbangers,” which puts them in the lead among all A-10 squadrons globally, according to Taylor Walker, who helped promote the event.

As winners of the previous biennial event, they also hosted the nationwide A-10 missile, bombing and tactical gunnery competition this year.

“It was a monster planning this thing,” said Lt. Col. Jason Cobb of the 190th Squadron.

Cobb was a member of the winning crew in the last competition, held in Georgia. This year, he served as one of the organizers of the three-day event.

Fifteen A-10 squadrons from the National Air Guard, active-duty and Air Force Reserves, gathered to put their skills to the test — as well as socialize.

“We kind of just have a big party, we hang out, we tell stories … after the party, we compete,” Cobb said. “We see who the best of the best is.”

The crews don’t receive a scenario until they step out to their aircraft the morning of the competition. It may involve locating a downed airman with a bad radio, while also trying to take out enemy missile launches, Cobb said.

Sometimes, there might be GPS jamming that they have to navigate while targets pop up.

“We have to be ready for almost anything,” he said. “You just have to train to a full spectrum of what we might see in combat situations.”

This year’s event took place at Saylor Creek Range, south of Mountain Home near Bruneau. On Thursday, the crews started south of the range and received their threat level. The aircraft came in lower during each gun run.

The stars of the show are the fighter jets as much as the pilots and maintenance crews. The aircraft was first delivered in 1975 and deployed in 1976. It was the first Air Force aircraft designed for close air support of ground forces, according to an Air Force fact sheet. The Thunderbolt II is known for its maneuverability at low airspeeds and altitudes as well as its accurate weapons systems.

Hawgsmoke was founded by Col. Cliff Latta in 1996, according to the event’s website. Latta was the operations group commander of the 110th Fighter Wing in Michigan, and he wanted to showcase his and other A-10 units. The first event was held in conjunction with the annual Air National Guard A-10 Operations Group Commander Meeting, the website said.

In 2000, the event was reinvented to include more units and more events, the website states.

Cliff, on the website, said, “Hawgsmoke was established to allow current Hawg Pilots an opportunity to show their stuff. The goal was to have a low key fighter pilot weekend with the comrades … that just happened to have a competition attached.”

The 190th Squadron is now back-to-back winners of the event. In 2021, the squadron took home all three team awards: overall champion, top bombing team and top tactical team. Cobb credited the Skullbangers’ success with the experience of the pilots at Gowen Field, who are “a little older” with some more flight time than many other units, he said.

He said there’s concern that the A-10 will soon be retired. The Air Force has proposed the retirement of the A-10 fleet in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budget cycles, Politico reported in June. Each time, Congress rejected the retirement, arguing there wasn’t an adequate replacement, the article said.

However, the concern is still present in places like the 124th Fighter Wing at Gowen Field. In the event of the fighter jet’s retirement, Cobb said, it will be important for community leaders to advocate for a “follow-on” mission with a new jet at the local base.

“We have a lot of experienced pilots here, that’s why we win Hawgsmoke,” Cobb said. “We don’t want to lose that experience if the A-10 does go away.” 

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press. Read more at IdahoPress.com 

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