Michael's Dispatches

Angels Over Afghanistan


photo-1000F/A-18C Hornet named after SPC Chazray Clark

Father’s Day
17 June 2012

The US Navy has named an F/A-18C Hornet after Specialist Chazray Clark, who was killed in action last September in Afghanistan.  The jet bearing Chazray’s name is now flying combat operations over Afghanistan and may well be fighting as you read this.

Much of the air support in Afghanistan comes from the Navy.   F/A-18 Hornets launch from aircraft carriers, and they make their way over Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan where they provide air support for troops below.  The days and flights are long.  After launching from the pitching deck in the Arabian Sea, they fly over to Afghanistan and conduct multiple midair refueling cycles from American and NATO tanker aircraft to provide troops with airborne artillery on call.  When the call does come, they drop their bombs with pinpoint accuracy and shoot their cannons, even during the night with Night Vision Goggles.  Many times, they don’t fire a shot during a mission but provide reassurance to the Soldiers and Marines that if they need to call, the Hornets are only minutes away. After the mission is complete or they are “Winchester” they make the long trip back to the carrier, never having touched down in Afghanistan.


The Navy F-18s, along with many other aircraft, provide cover seven days a week.  After you have been in Afghanistan combat long enough, it is no longer necessary to look up when you hear a gun run.  You can recognize the guns from an F/A-18, or from an A-10, or the thumping from an Apache.

When an F/A-18 Hornet rolls in, even when you know it is up there, it can still often hit by surprise.  The roaring aircraft overhead could be orbiting the battlefield.  Then it just disappears.  If you are the enemy, a disappearing F/A-18 could be a very good thing, or a very bad thing.  Afghanistan will teach you to never trust a Hornet that flies away.

The Hornet disappears up there somehow.  It can disappear even if you are not in the middle of a firefight and can concentrate on the sky.  Even when you know that the pilot is lining up for a gun run--you know because the radio is right next to you, and you can hear the pilot warn everyone--and you know that the plane is coming in one minute, and you know the direction that it is coming from, it can still be hard to spot.  The Hornet paint scheme delivers that magical disappearing act as it climbs above the battlefield and seems to vanish.  That light grey blue tint that all Navy F/A-18 are painted helps the pilot quickly escape the surface-to- air threat and allows him to return from a different direction thereby surprising the enemy and forcing him to react.

So the Hornet disappears.  But you know that it is coming in because you just heard the pilot say that he is lining up.  He seems to cut his engines, and the aircraft seems to go quiet.  It is broad daylight, and none of the Soldiers can see it.  Everyone is looking.  Finally somebody says, “There he is,” and they point, and then you see the growing speck, and the Hornet is quiet, and you wonder how in the world can a jet that big hide in the clear blue sky?

Then the pilot kind of drops his nose, glides and you see a silent puff of smoke.  He has just fired the M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon, a six barreled air cooled beast with the pilot capable of selecting either 4,000 or 6,000 rounds per minute (the aircraft defaults to 6,000 rounds) but there are no tracers.  The jet only carries 578 rounds, meaning the pilot has 5.78 seconds of trigger time before going “Winchester.”  Each pull of the trigger lasts about two seconds.  Longer and the gun starts to overheat.

When you see that puff of smoke, he seems to hit the throttle hard, and jerk up his nose and start doing some Top Gun thing--he must be pulling some G’s--and then flares pop out and bullets start hitting the target. It is quick.  The sound reaches you, first the firing RIIIIPPP, and then the sound of the bullets striking bblbbblllllamammama, and the roar and whine of the jet and the strange noises made by its wings.  A gun run is a strange mixture of already strange noises, and words can never capture it.  You must either be there, or someone with great audio gear must catch it, and play it back on good speakers.

The bullets seem to hit all at once and explode.  If there is moon dust, a cloud will go up like the detonation of a small bomb.  During World War II, our planes hosed out the bullets.  Today, they fire so quickly that it is more accurate to say that they splash the target.

photo1-1000F/A-18C-Hornet named after SPC Chazray Clark stationed on the carrier Abraham Lincoln, today flying missions over Afghanistan.

The Navy has been naming jets after our fallen troops, and they named this Hornet after SPC Chazray Clark.  Chazray was lost to an IED last September in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.  A pilot sent me these images yesterday, saying that this Navy jet is today flying missions over Afghanistan.  The pilot wanted people to know that Chazray is not forgotten.  Chazray’s family did not even know until I forwarded the images to them yesterday.  They are very grateful.

Chazray surely is not forgotten.  He will be remembered along with so many others.  And today, it is good to know that the namesakes of our fallen Soldiers are flying high.  The enemy will never know what hit them.

It happens that today is Father’s Day in America.  Chazray, like so many before, was a father.  Today is a good day to be thankful for many things.

For more about the loss of Chazray.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry · 9 years ago
    Thank you Michael for all you've done with the Dustoff/Medevac issues. I'm sure the naming of the F18 after Chazray is thanks to his family, and you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    M Wader · 9 years ago
    As`long as a fallen comrade is remembered he truly not lost.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    catchesthewind · 9 years ago
    As long as a fallen warrior is remembered he is truly not lost.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    Such a beautiful Sight!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bobby · 9 years ago

    Thank you for this article. As a father and as an active service member who has lost nearly a dozen friends since December of 2010, it is good to know that some of the guys watching my back in Afghanistan were honoring my brothers and sisters. Help truly does come in the way of angels wings.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    No matter what is going on in D.C., the Military is always close to OUR Hearts. We respect and love you all as though you are all of our sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.
    God Bless Our Military and Protect them from all harm.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe · 9 years ago
    Brings back memories. I trained on the Chaparral/Vulcan Air Defense system forty+ years ago. The Vulcan side was indeed awesome. We carried 2,000 rounds in a drum and another 1,800 on belts. Our selector was for 1,000 or ,000 rounds. The 1,000 was continuous fire, the ,000 was set at 10, 0, 60 or 100 rounds bursts.... I think. But anyway, it was awesome. We all felt like it sounded like a looooong Missouri mule fart. But even with all that, the missile was my favorite. Lighting off a Sidewinder from a launch rail about 18 inches from your head is.... interesting, to say the least. Especially for an observer from the outside. I have pics that show the track engulfed in flames and exhaust from the rocket motor of the missile.

    Ahhhh, yes. The good ol' days.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 9 years ago
    Great men with great hearts should always be remembered. I wish his family the best and may we all keep our military and their families in our hearts!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Teri · 9 years ago
    "The Lord God will send the hornet among them until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed." (Deut 7-20) (I have this scripture on a picture of a fully loaded F-18 flying a mission at dusk).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    I am NOT in the Military. I am far too old. I grieved over losing my cousin in Viet Nam. My entire family has served our country even during the Civil War; so my next statement is out of Love and Respect for Our Military. I do NOT want any more of our people to die and/or come back from there missing arms, legs, and suffer with PTSD.
    Why can't we end it? And, I would really like to have honest feed back. why can't we use the Star Wars Weapons or a Nuke?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elaine · 9 years ago
    They will NEVER give up. They have been fighting for 1,400 years.

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