GSHS grad on the job in Afghanistan
On Wednesday, Francesco Pfauth reclined on the couch in his mother’s living room, watching a science fiction movie with his family.
Since last fall, Air Force Capt. Pfauth, who goes by “Cesco,” has been in his own kind of sci-fi movie.
Eleven days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pfauth’s unit left for combat duty in Afghanistan.
“Ours was the first fully operational unit” sent to Afghanistan, he said.
Pfauth is home on leave for a few weeks. He and his wife, Kay, and their son, Daniel, are visiting family in Glenwood Springs and other relatives in Colorado.
They came to Glenwood Springs this week for his sister Stephanie’s high school graduation. He’ll report back to Duke Air Force Base in northwestern Florida next week.
A 1991 graduate of Glenwood Springs High School, Pfauth attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Now, seven years after beginning active duty, Pfauth is a member of the elite Special Operations forces, specifically, Special Operations Command of the Eighth Special Operations Squadron.
He is a navigator on MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft, the workhorse of Special Operations in Afghanistan. The plane drops everything from troops to supplies to 15,000-pound BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” bombs.
It is also equipped to refuel itself from tankers on the ground or to refuel helicopters, he said, “so we can stay in the air indefinitely.”
The Special Ops mission is to prepare the way for regular troops that, in turn, are there to support the Northern Alliance, the loosely knit Afghan army under the autocratic control of various warlords.
“My airframe is the most diverse in the Air Force,” he said with pride of the aircraft, also called a C-130.
The specially fitted C-130s are equipped with advanced terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, Pfauth’s specialty.
“My first drop had to go down a mountain valley. We followed the ridgeline down. We were going through bad weather. It was my first combat drop in the hairiest conditions,” he said.
The C-130’s sophisticated radar can “see” the terrain ahead, so the pilots can maneuver around and through it. Pfauth said he “paints” the terrain, bouncing electronic signals off the landforms back to the radar, “to find out where we are.”
This radar can paint landforms, cities, individual buildings and even communication towers, he said.
After the drop is completed, “it’s a very good feeling,” and a relief, he said.
When he was not in the air, Pfauth lived in rugged conditions in advance bases in the roughest country.
His nine-man flight crew lived in one tent. Electricity was supplied by generators, so they had the comfort of air conditioners and heaters.
He had some limited contact with the Afghan people.
“The people I’ve gotten to talk to are happy we’re here,” he said. “No one liked the Taliban. We gave them an opportunity to be free.”
The Afghans are people who have known war for many generations.
“They’re rugged. They grew up fighting. To them, to own a gun is just part of life. As a kid, when you’re old enough to hold a gun, you get one,” Pfauth said. “Many of them own rocket launchers.”
While he didn’t seen many women, children were everywhere, he said. They clamored for American dollars, worth far more than their own currency.
“You can tell how poor a country is by how much they want American dollars,” he said.
Americans fighting in Afghanistan also have a strong sense of purpose, Pfauth said.
“For us, it’s our job. It’s what we trained to do. I’m glad we’re getting to do our job.
“We’re in it for the long haul. We know we’ve got a job to do, and we will keep the peace and help build up the government,” Pfauth said.
Despite the strong sense of purpose Pfauth and his comrades feel about their mission, life in the remote country has definite drawbacks.
When he’s not flying, the boredom can be difficult.
“That was very hard. If I’ve got to be away from my family, I’d rather be kept busy,” he said.
The Air Force Captain will have his third tour of duty “in country” come February 2003.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.