728 ACS out the door again

The 728th Air Control Squadron is heading to Iraq once again in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. This is the squadron's sixth rotation to the AOR. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

The 728th Air Control Squadron is heading to Iraq once again in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. This is the squadron's sixth rotation to the AOR. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

Lt. Col. Douglas Hagen, commander, 728 ACS, accepts on behalf of the squadron a homemade blanket as a departing gift from a local church that one of the deploying Airmen attends. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

Lt. Col. Douglas Hagen, commander, 728 ACS, accepts on behalf of the squadron a homemade blanket as a departing gift from a local church that one of the deploying Airmen attends. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

Airmen of the 728th Air Control Squadron sort through their mobility folders to make sure their paperwork is in line for the upcoming deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

Airmen of the 728th Air Control Squadron sort through their mobility folders to make sure their paperwork is in line for the upcoming deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Rachel Chapman)

Eglin AFB, Florida -- The 728th Air Control Squadron says goodbye to friends and family once again as they head overseas for their sixth deployment rotation in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

More than 200 Airmen are headed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, for four months, while a handful of others are going to other locations in Southwest Asia, said Lt. Col. Robert Lilke, director of operations, 728 ACS. 

"We will be manning the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron or 'Kingpin,'" said Colonel Lilke, "which is the primary tactical control agency for over seventy percent of the Iraqi airspace."

"We will provide constant surveillance and identification of aircraft over more than 270,000 square miles of Iraqi airspace. Kingpin provides air battle execution through airspace deconfliction, air refueling positioning and management, and close-air support and dynamic targeting support," said Colonel Lilke. 

Deploying for the third time, Capt. Emmanuel R.L. Combs, air surveillance officer, 728 ACS, puts the squadron's mission into simple terms: to provide a recognizable air picture of the entire country of Iraq to the Combined Air Operations Center. 

"In reality, my unit's mission is to provide 24-hour Air Battle Execution and Wide Area Surveillance," added Captain Combs.

While the mission is no small feat, Colonel Lilke is confident that his team will be successful. For most of the Airmen, this is not their first round in theater. "This is the squadron's sixth rotation in support of OIF and it is great to see the progress that is occurring in Iraq," said Capt. Brian Mansfield, chief of squadron weapons and tactics, 728 ACS. "It is humbling for me to be a part of the changes and the squadron is anxious to replace the Air National Guard unit that will be departing upon our arrival."

Captain Combs shared similar sentiments. "I'm just happy to be able to deploy again and do my part in supporting our Army brethren on the ground by making sure they get the air support they need to capture insurgents."

Despite the excitement, the Airmen agreed that the hardest part is leaving behind family and friends. For the next four months, their fellow Airmen will be the closest thing to family.

"I am very excited to be deploying and can't wait for the camaraderie that is going to come of the deployment," said Staff Sgt. James Smith, Jr., interface control technician, 728 ACS.

Colonel Lilke is looking forward to seeing the squadron come together and operate under wartime conditions. During the down time, he has encouraged his Airmen to set personal goals, such as improving their fitness or completing Professional Military Education and school work. "Everyone should be working towards accomplishing a personal goal," he said. 

Captain Mansfield shared one of his personal goals for the deployment: "Hit the gym hard and get rock hard abs by the end of the deployment!"

Needless to say, the 728 ACS will be working hard on- and off-duty. Sergeant Smith summed it up saying, "my squadron will bring expertise to the fight that will be the best in the Combat Air Forces!"