“Kabulki Dance” aircraft makes history, becomes permanent historic display

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – The 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle, tail number 173, was the lead aircraft of a two-ship formation that flew the longest combat sortie ever by a United States fighter aircraft. In a combined total of 15 hours and 32 minutes the aircraft and its crew lasted to participate in the Kabulki Dance Mission.

The 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle, tail number 173, was the lead aircraft of a two-ship formation that flew the longest combat sortie ever by a United States fighter aircraft. In a combined total of 15 hours and 32 minutes the aircraft and its crew lasted to participate in the Kabulki Dance mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – Col. Ron Buckley, 366th Fighter Wing commander, speaks during a static display dedication ceremony here July 29. The ceremony was held to formally announce the dedication of tail number 173 in honor of the pilots and the crews that worked on it and with it during important missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

U.S. Air Force Col. Ron Buckley, 366th Fighter Wing commander, speaks during a static display dedication ceremony at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, July 29. The ceremony was held to formally announce the dedication of tail number 173 in honor of the pilots and the crews that worked on it and with it during important missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – Senior leaders pose for a photo here July 29 with the family of Tech. Sgt. Jason Leigh, a former 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron member who was killed April 2010 in a motorcycle accident while on temporary duty in Las Vegas, Nev. The F-15 E Strike Eagle was dedicated to honor the men and women of the 366th Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

U.S. Air Force senior leaders pose for a photo at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, July 29 with the family of Tech. Sgt. Jason Leigh, a former 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron member who was killed April 2010 in a motorcycle accident while on temporary duty in Las Vegas, Nev. The F-15 E Strike Eagle was dedicated to honor the men and women of the 366th Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – Lt. Col. Paul Knapp, a weapons system officer (WSO), is interviewed by local media here July 29. Knapp, who was a WSO for tail number 173, was one of many Airmen honored during the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Knapp, a weapons system officer, is interviewed by media at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, July 29. Knapp, a WSO for tail number 173, was one of many Airmen honored during the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angelina Drake)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- The 391st Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle, Tail Number 87-173, was dedicated as a static display during a ceremony here July 29.

Now Col. Mark Slocum, pilot, and Lt. Col. Paul Knapp, weapons system officer, both captains when they flew in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on the night of Nov. 12, 2001. They were the lead aircraft, which flew the longest combat "sortie," or mission, ever by a United States fighter aircraft.

"This particular mission definitely stands out in my mind as one of the most memorable events of my military career," explained Slocum. "I was lucky enough to have a fantastic WSO, wingman, and maintenance crew to make everything work out perfectly."

In what later became known as the "Kabulki Dance" mission, the Bold Tigers began the historic mission by flying from a base in the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan in order to find and destroy the residences of Al Qaeda targets.

Using the laser guidance systems the Strike Eagles were equipped with, both aircraft were able to successfully guide four 500 pound bombs, destroying targets while evading both anti-aircraft gunfire and surface-to-air missiles.

"We were actually returning to base when we received the call to return to the combat area and strike at another high value target," stated Knapp. "We had 10 separate air refueling missions throughout the entire "Kabulki Dance" mission because of the high priority of targets."

Next, the aircraft received clearance to attack anti-aircraft emplacements along a ridge north of Kabul. Unfortunately, the targets could not be positively identified. The Bold Tigers were then tasked with seeking out enemy targets and successfully bombed a mountainside, creating an avalanche to block the vehicles without destroying the road.

Following that attack, the Gunfighters began the long trip home but were recalled 45 minutes later to strike yet another high priority target. The crews delivered two 500 pound bombs each on the latest targets and finally were given permission to return to base after more than 15 hours in the air.

This example of American airpower would not have been possible without the hard work of many Gunfighters.

"The individuals whose names appear on this aircraft and the thousands of individuals whose names appear on the midnight and weekend duty schedules are the best representation of American airpower," said Col. Ron D. Buckley, 366th Fighter Wing commander. "Two of the names that appear on this aircraft, Tech. Sgt. Jason Leigh and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Dabney, are fallen Gunfighters who represent the backbone of our mission, as well as the unbelievable dedication from our maintenance and support career fields."

Currently there are Gunfighters deployed overseas who are maintaining and loading ammo onto Strike Eagles, flying missions, and engaging targets in order to save and protect American lives. Like the members of the "Kabulki Dance" mission, these Airmen are making history and will always be remembered for their high standards and precise combat lethality.