By Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 29, 2012
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Many Air Force units in deployed locations operate by bringing together Airmen from different bases, who must learn to work as a team during their rotation to achieve mission success.
The more than 200-member squadron responsible for the E-3 Sentry mission at the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, however, isn't one of them.
The 970th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron here currently consists primarily of Airmen from its home station, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. However, even as the squadron soon returns to home station, another Tinker E-3 squadron will take its place.
"It's an eight-crew package; four crews come in first, then the other four come in about a month later so they don't all swap out at once," said Lt. Col. Matthew Conrad, 970th EAACS commander, who also commands the squadron back home. "The commander and (director of operations rotates) about midway (through a rotation) for continuity of leadership."
Though one of the deployed squadron's crews comes from either Kadena Air Base, Japan, or Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, the other seven crews are from Tinker. They are often able to skip the "getting to know you" phase of the deployment and move right in to working as a team to perform the mission.
After only six days on station, Airman 1st Class Dustin McClure, from the 963rd AACS at Tinker, said he was ready to take over from his 970th EAACS counterpart.
"Our entire mission planning cell came from the tactics shop that we work in back home," said the Andrews, N.C., native. "My supervisors and my co-workers all from back at home station are here in the same office with me, so that continuity has already been built, the relationships have already been built. We just basically hit the ground running."
There are also fluid operations between the active duty and reserve members and different home units that make up the deployed squadron, as four of the crews are active duty and three are reserve.
"We partner with active duty members on a regular basis at Tinker," said Master Sgt. Christina Jones, a Washington state native and 970th EAACS air surveillance technician, who is also from the 970th AACS, a reserve squadron. "We have a pretty good relationship with them.
"Us coming out here, we're old school, we have a lot of experience. It's really easy to work with them (active-duty members) because they're constantly wanting to learn what we've done."
"We've got kind of the best of both worlds," said Conrad, a Marion, Ind., native. "We all come out here and we act as one big team and we get the job done."
For E-3 operators, this means providing an airborne command and control capability.
At the 380th AEW, the squadron has a two-part mission, one in Afghanistan and one in the local area.
In Afghanistan, "we take the ground commander's intent and we match that to air power, and we integrate air power and make sure the ground component is supported so they can accomplish their mission as well," said Maj. George Christoph, 970th EAACS weapons officer and mission planning chief, who is from the 960th AACS at Tinker. "We report all that information back through voice and data links to the (Combined Air Operations Center in theater) so they have all the information they need at the operational level to make the strategic and operational decisions."
Locally, the squadron supports missions in the area as required and directed by the Combined Forces Air Component commander, said Christoph, a Madison, S.D., native.
"It's all about air power and putting a bomb on target, and we facilitate that," Conrad said. "It's air power, controlling air assets, putting it on the ground where the ground commander's intent needs us to be, and we're a vital portion of that."
The approximately 20-person E-3 crews consist of pilots and co-pilots, air battle managers, navigators, and computer, radio, radar and surveillance technicians. The rest of the squadron consists of support functions including intelligence analysts, radio communications specialists, maintenance technicians, a flight doctor and independent duty medical technician, and squadron aviation resource managers.
"It's a total force complement here; we've got everybody," said Lt. Col. Elbert Pringle, a Cleveland native and director of operations for the incoming squadron, the 963rd AACS. "We're all command and control, battle management experts that meld all of our different experience levels together to accomplish the mission.
"Our job is a no-fail job; we take that to heart and we go to war and do what we have to do to make the intent of the CFACC and all the higher-ups that are making the decisions for how we go forward."
As the 970th EAACS soon turns the reins over to the 963rd, Conrad said he is most proud of how his squadron has operated as a team.
"You walk around here and folks are proud to be a part of this unit," he said. "They know they've done something while they've been here and we've worked together as a team.
"I'm proud of this unit and what we've accomplished. You can't ever forget that we're 200 people, and that's 200 individuals. They all joined the Air Force, they're all over here serving, and we're all on the same team. I'm proud of each and every one of them."