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Kim N. Campbell

U.S. Air Force / Distinguished Flying Cross

Her plane shot up over Iraq,
Air Force captain completed a dangerous flight to safety

They were in a holding pattern over Baghdad, their view of the city completely obscured by dense cloud cover. U.S. Air Force Capt. Kim Campbell and her flight leader, Lt. Col. Richard “Bino” Turner, had just refueled their A-10 fighters when they got the call:

Troops with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division were under attack.

“We knew that once we descended below the weather, we were in a much more vulnerable situation,” Campbell recalled of that day in April 2003. “Sure enough, we started taking fire. We could see bursts coming up around us and smoke.

“It was eye-opening, to say the least.”

Campbell, then 27, made a couple of passes around the target area, firing high-explosive rockets at Iraqi Republican Guard troops. Return fire stopped, and she and Turner began moving away from the combat area.

“As I was coming off target, that was when I felt and heard a very loud explosion in the back of the aircraft,” Campbell recalled. “I knew immediately what happened. … I felt the jet shake pretty violently, and then it nosed over towards the ground, and at that point it wasn’t responding to any of my control inputs.”

With caution lights flashing, Campbell saw that the plane’s hydraulic gauges were at zero: No brakes, no steering, no control over the aircraft.

“I looked down at the ground and saw Baghdad down below me … where I had just been firing at enemy forces, and thought that this would be really bad if I had to eject here.”

Campbell couldn’t see the hundreds of holes in her A-10′s tail, but she knew the plane was built to take fire. She flipped a single switch to convert the aircraft to manual control.

“Thankfully, it worked,” Campbell said, and she and Turner headed back to Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait.

Her plane wasn’t flying well, but it was flying. Controlling an injured A-10 manually with no hydraulics had been done before, but landing was another matter. Three times a pilot had attempted it. One pilot had been killed when his aircraft crashed on landing. Another pilot survived, but his aircraft was severely damaged when it swerved on and off the runway.

But there was hope from one similar situation: The pilot had landed the A-10 safely.

Campbell rejected the option to eject once back in friendly territory: “I made the decision that I was going to try to land the airplane.”

She also had time to process her reaction to what had happened.

“I tried to focus on the task at hand, but an hour is a long time and I was angry,” she said. “I was angry that they got lucky and hit my aircraft. I had hoped that we had done enough to help the guys on the ground before we had to leave.”

Campbell landed safely at Al Jaber and was met by a crew of 12 firefighters who looked in amazement at her damaged airplane.

“I was amazed, too,” she said. “I am amazed the airplane can take those hits and still keep flying.”

The following day, Campbell would pilot another A-10 to Baghdad, this time to search for a pilot who had been shot down near where her jet had been hit.

“Absolutely, I was going to go in there and do everything I could to pick him up, ’cause that could have been me the day before,” she said.

The downed pilot was picked up quickly by Army ground forces, and Campbell headed back to base.

Campbell’s skill and courage earned her a Distinguished Flying Cross, but she said that was not all she took from that harrowing day:

“It completely reinforced the importance of taking care of the guys on the ground. … When they need our help, we’re gonna be there, even in these high-threat situations.”

Jane Erikson is a freelance writer in Tucson, Ariz.

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Kim Campbell knew her flight from Baghdad to an air base in Kuwait was going to be risky, but she knew she had to take that risk. “I looked down at the ground and saw Baghdad down below me … where I had just been firing at enemy forces, and thought that this would be really bad if I had to eject here," she said. (Photo by David Sanders)

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Kim N. Campbell

U.S. Air Force / Distinguished Flying Cross

Born June 6, 1975, in Honolulu, but except for two weeks she has lived in California her whole life. She considers her hometown as San Jose, where her Air Force veteran father, Chuck Reed, is mayor.

Husband Scott Campbell is an Air Force lieutenant colonel and A-10 pilot who also has seen duty in the War on Terror. The couple have a 1-year-old son, Colin.

Deployed to Iraq under Operation Iraqi Freedom March 2003. Before that, she served in Kuwait in Operation Southern Watch and in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2005 she was deployed again to Afghanistan.

Her A-10 Thunderbolt’s hydraulic systems destroyed after the fighter was hit by heavy enemy fire over Baghdad, she refused to ditch the plane and defied the odds by completing a risky landing in Kuwait.

In October, Campbell completed a three-month refresher course after taking a year off from flying when she became a mother. She is now a major, assigned to the 357th Fighter Squadron in Tucson, Ariz.

“I was in the fifth grade when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, and that had a profound effect on me because I realized that they died doing something that was really important to them, and that was more important than anything else. I decided I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, and I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force.”

Iraq / Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait

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