As the wheels of the CF-18 Hornet fighter jet touched down in Trapani, Italy, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force deployed on Operation Mobile clocked an historic mission milestone.
On Oct. 2, Major James Kettles, a Task Force Libeccio pilot, flew his 50th combat mission.
“It was pretty exciting, but there are more than 200 people here on the ground who contributed to that accomplishment,” said Maj Kettles, a pilot with 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron, 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta. “I’m just the guy who straps on the jet.”
Maj Kettles is one of a few CF-18 pilots deployed to Italy who also deployed in 1998 during Operation Echo, the Canadian participation to help enforce a no-fly zone in the Balkan region in support of the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) and Kosovo Force (KFOR), and to prepare for the 79-day NATO air campaign over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Maj Kettles racked up the impressive 50 combat mission statistic during his two tours of duty on Op Mobile.
He initially deployed from March 23 to April 23 as a mentor. He brought combat experience to a young group of pilots but during that time he only flew six missions.
It was during his second rotation in theatre, when he also served as the CF-18 Hornet flight commander, that his mission numbers began to mount. From July 8 to Oct. 2, he added 44 more flights.
He said the one that stood out the most was a mission in the vicinity of Misratah, Libya, where he witnessed pro-Gadhafi forces shelling the city, and was able to intervene and deter the attack.
“When you’re watching pro-Ghadafi forces fire rockets indiscriminately into the city, you realize how important it is that we’re here,” said Maj Kettles. “We have to defend people who can’t defend themselves, and assisting in the protection of civilians became evident right away.”
Canada has played a big role in the NATO-lead operation, and has demonstrated a continued commitment to international security and cooperation. As an RCAF pilot, Maj Kettles says this operation has proven Canada’s ability to remain responsive and effective in today’s changing security environment.
“Operation Mobile has been a significant RCAF effort because we’ve been able to do it pretty much all ourselves,” said Maj Kettles. “We used the CC-150 tankers to get our jets here.
“Our CC-150s and the CC-130 Hercules tankers, as well as other nations’, have fuelled our CF-18s throughout the operation. The CP-140 Auroras have provided intelligence products favoured by NATO, while the CC-177 Globemaster III has been huge in delivering everything from aircraft parts to equipment, which has allowed us to sustain our operation.
“These capabilities have allowed us to have a huge impact within the coalition.”
“We here at Task Force Libeccio are proud of the accomplishment of Maj Kettles, and all the members of the Canadian Task Force who have supported Canada’s contribution to operations over and around Libya.
“Through [the efforts of] our professional military members, we have made a significant contribution to this NATO operation, and helped build a new future for the people of Libya,” said Brigadier-General Derek Joyce, commander of Task Force Libeccio.
Operation Mobile is the Canadian Forces’ participation in Operation Unified Protector, the NATO-led effort, as authorized in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011, to impose upon Libya an arms embargo, a no-fly zone and to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas in Libya.
Task Force Libeccio is the air component of Operation Mobile and is composed of the task force headquarters, based in Naples, Italy; the air coordination element, based in Poggio-Renatico, Italy; and the Sicily air wing, based out of two locations in Sicily, Italy. There are approximately 350 personnel deployed to Italy as part of Task Force Libeccio.
The Sicily Air Wing is made up of four air operations flights and two close support flights, which include: a CP-140 Aurora flight, based at Sigonella, Sicily as well as a CF-18 Hornet flight, a CC-150T Polaris flight, a CC-130J Hercules flight, and an operational support flight and a mission support flight, all based at Trapani-Birgi, Sicily.
In addition to the support furnished to Operation Mobile by Task Force Libeccio, HMCS Vancouver is currently conducting presence and surveillance patrols under Combined Joint Task Force Unified Protector, through the NATO Maritime Component Commander and Combined Task Group 455.01 deployed in the Mediterranean.