We take off. Beissner tells me that "insurgents came up to a building, took some weapons out of a building, and moved away from it now. ... So right now we're basically just tracking these people."
We monitor the activity on the ground for over an hour, watching what is called the target pod -- a real-time picture capable of extreme close-ups. These are the images that would eventually help guide a bomb to its target.
In the jet, we also placed three small HD cameras -- one on the pilot, one on me, one facing outside. I had a handheld HD camera as well, which is not really that easy to maneuver when you are flying as fast as we were, especially when upside down. But I did manage to hold the camera steady when the lead jet flew just 15 feet above us, giving a close-up view of the nearly 5,000 pounds of bombs attached to it. We carried the same amount of ordnance.
We also gave the weapons system officer in the lead jet a camera. When the jets needed gas and headed for the aerial refueling, the lead jet got close enough to see me wave and see me then point the camera up to tape the boom operator in the tanker holding the boom connected to our jet.
But once we were refueled, the mission took an urgent turn. The French air controller, called a JTAC for Joint Terminal Air Controller, who is on the ground with the French troops, says they have come under small arms fire and had a rocket propelled grenade launched at them.
"We have a bad guy with a weapon moving to the northeast!" he yells.
The JTAC does not hesitate. He asks the fighter jets to drop a 500 pound bomb, or GBU 38: "I request an attack at 340 degrees ... in the treeline. ...Confirm you guys are still taking effective fire."
"They are very close ... imminent attack," he continues. "We just see one more RPG on that location. I request one GBU 38."
But we can see from the air that a school is nearby and dropping a bomb would cause significant damage and possible loss of life. The aircraft recommends strafing, an extremely low-level attack using the jet's powerful 20 millimeter machine gun. It's much less likely to cause collateral damage. The French JTAC gives the go-ahead.
"You are clear, hot; clear, hot," he yells.
The lead fighter jet dives toward the treeline and sprays it with bullets. An eruption of dust can be seen on the screen and below us, but the French ground controller is not satisfied.
"I request re-attack with one GBU, to the north 20 meters ... north to south ... one GBU, attacking 3-4-0," he yells.
"Negative, that is close to the building," we hear the lead F-15 reply. "The school to the south is too close for a GBU."
The American crews of the fighter jets sound frustrated. "They sure are antsy to drop some bombs on friendlies," they say over the radio.
But the fighter jets coordinate with the French for a second strafing run. The fighter crew asks the JTAC to confirm that hostiles are still in the treeline. After they confirm where the strike should hit, 20 millimeter bullets pound into the treeline again. (The jet is armed with more than 500 rounds).
The enemy fire stops. The JTAC requests that our jets continue to scan for possible "squirters" -- insurgents who may have escaped.