Capt. Kim Campbell

'I felt and heard a large explosion'

Distinguished Flying Cross with "V"



while serving with

75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 332rd Expeditionary Operations Group, 332rd Air Expeditionary Wing

Her handle is “Killer Chick,” but the Distinguished Flying Cross that Air Force Maj. Kim Campbell was awarded involved the act of preservation, not destruction.

On April 7, 2003, Campbell, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the 75th Fighter Squadron, helped save the lives of American troops who were pinned down by Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard on the Tigris River, near the North Baghdad Bridge.

Campbell also saved Iraqi lives because she refused to ditch her aircraft over the crowded capitol and eject, allowing the burning jet to crash into a city of 11 million people.

And Campbell saved U.S. taxpayers the cost of replacing one “Warthog” — a 30,000 pound, multimillion-dollar twin-engine jet aircraft specifically designed for close air support, one of the most in-demand missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to this day.

Early that gray and windy morning in Iraq, Campbell and her flight lead, squadron commander Lt. Col. Rick Turner, were waiting their turn in the “CAS stack,” the name Air Force fighter pilots give for the circles they fly while waiting to be called to perform close-air-support missions.

Campbell and Turner had flown their two-ship formation to Baghdad from Al Jabr Air Base in Kuwait, stopping just long enough on the way for their Warthogs to sip a load of fuel from the refueling tankers playing the role of flying gas stations, she said.

When the call came over the radio that U.S. troops at the bridge needed help, Turner, as flight lead, knifed the nose of his A-10 downward and dived through the dense clouds, calling for Campbell — a captain at the time — to follow.

The pair immediately spotted the fighting at the bridge. They began to respond in a square dance of mayhem, taking turns letting loose with the Warthog’s 30 mm cannons and explosive rockets.

When it was her turn to make her final pass, Campbell dropped in from south to north, left hand pushing the throttle all the way forward to give the aircraft maximum power.

As she rolled in on her target, and adjusted her position using the joystick in her right hand, Campbell’s thumb slipped over the “pickle button” at the top of the stick. A split-second before the Warthog hit the target her thumb pushed the button, and the rocket spat from the plane with a bright flash of flight.

With the throttle still full out, Campbell began to make her move up and away from the target. She was just beginning to move to her left, with the familiar, solid sensation of G-forces underneath her seat, “when I felt and heard a large explosion in the back of the aircraft.”

“There was no doubt in my mind,” she said. “I knew exactly what it was. I knew I’d been hit.”

It was an anti-aircraft missile, and the impact had sheared both hydraulic lines to her jet.

“Our hydraulics are really what allow our flight control system to function normally,” Campbell said. If the system is compromised, rudders, flaps, and other critical flight and landing gear won’t work.

“At this point there’s really one option,” Campbell said, “and that’s to switch to manual inversion” — the A-10’s backup system of cables.

Campbell also knew she had a second option: eject and allow the plane to crash.

But there were civilians down there, and there was no knowing who would be hit by the burning Warthog.

Moreover, “ejecting in itself over friendly territory is one thing. Now, ejecting over enemy territory and going down over Baghdad, where we were just delivering ordnance on Iraqi Republican Guard, is a totally different story.”

So that left the manual inversion, a technique that Campbell, like most A-10 pilots, had performed exactly once, during initial pilot training.

“There’s one sortie where you’ll fly in manual inversion for very limited time, to understand that it’s just a little bit more difficult to fly,” said Campbell, who is now 31 and A-10 division commander for the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group’s 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

All of this flashed through Campbell’s mind. She reached over with her right hand and hit the switch to put the A-10 into manual.

Instantly, the jet began to respond to her flight commands once again, and she began to climb, up and away from Baghdad.

“It was a huge sense of relief,” Campbell said. “That’s not a system you check in the preflight, so you put 100 percent trust in the maintenance guys that it will work, and it did. It worked as advertised.”

The flight home was smooth.

“I had plenty of gas and the airplane was flying very well, so we decided to take it back to Kuwait,” Campbell said.

But Campbell was angry that her aircraft had been shot up, and absolutely furious that they had been forced to leave the troops on the bridge.

“When it’s your own Americans are getting shot at, you want to do everything you can to help them out.”

At Al Jabr, the A-10 continued to respond through the entire landing process. In fact, “I’d say probably one of the best landings I’ve ever done,” Campbell said.

“I’m just very impressed with the people who had that the forethought to design such an amazing airplane, and also with our maintenance troops,” Campbell said. “They don’t realize all the time that what they do has a direct impact in really saving someone’s life.”

By Lisa Burgess

Stars and Stripes