“Kabulki Dance” aircraft makes history, becomes permanent historic display
By Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 09, 2011
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.