Australia’s contingent of F/A-18F Super Hornets and the crews who fly these combat jets have returned home to a heros’ welcome at RAAF Base Amberley, having completed there missions in the Middle East against the forces of Daesh (Islamic State).
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin praised the work of the air and ground crews as they were reunitied by families and loved ones on the tarmac at the Air Base.
In a grand display, the six Super Hornets flew overhead the air base in close formation announcing their return to home base from combat operations as part of the multinational Operation OKRA in the Middle East.
It was an emotional reunion for the returning personnel who had not seen their families and friends for more than three months on this deployment, which marked the end of a three and a half year air campaign by the Super Hornets and the FA-18A/B ‘Classic Hornets based at RAAF Williamtown near Newcastle.
Also returning home was a KC-30A refuelling aircraft and C-17A Globemaster that provided invaluable air refuelling and air transport support for Coalition forces.
Operation OKRA was described as a “game changing” campaign, with 2799 sorties flown and more than 2400 precision bombs deployed against Daesh forcess in Iraq and in Syria.
The returning fighter pilots, weapons system operators, maintenance and support personnel were greeted by Prime Minister Turnbull and Defence dignitaries, congratulating them on a “job well done”.
“I visited the Task Group in April last year and I saw the incredible difference the air strike operations had made to the Iraqi Security Forces campaign to defeat Daesh,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The Iraqi Prime Minister has personally thanked me for the courage, professionalism, the dedication and the heroism that you’ve all shown in defeating these terrorists.
“They have lost 98 per cent of their territory, their so-called capital of their so-called Caliphate has fallen.”
Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin commended the ADF on their “excellent” collaboration with coalition counterparts.
“We’ve worked closely with the coalition, there’s a great relationship at ministerial level, there’s a great relationship at Chief of Defence level, and there’s a great relationship down into the operational level with the Squadrons,” the CDF said.
“We’ve worked closely with our Coalition partners throughout; we’ve learnt a lot, we’ve taught a lot, and it’s through that close cooperation that we’ve managed to have, as a Coalition, the success in supporting the Iraqi Security Forces.
“Now they’re back, they’ll have a few weeks off, then they’ll get back into their training cycle and ensure they’re prepared for any contingencies. There will be exercises they need to do and that’s to keep their skills right up there in case we need them in the future.”
The return of the Air Task Group does not signify the end of the fight against Daesh. Personnel from the Special Operations Task Group and Task Group Taji remain on the ground in the Middle East to assist Iraqi soldiers.