A drop in the bucket: 10,000 hours added to the count

Due to the high demand for their unique capabilities, the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft have been deployed almost continually for the past 29 years.

Due to the high demand for their unique capabilities, the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft have been deployed almost continually for the past 29 years.

The Control and Reporting Centers provide a command and control capability comparable to the E-3 AWACS, but do so using a ground-based system.

The Control and Reporting Centers provide a command and control capability comparable to the E-3 AWACS, but do so using a ground-based system.

An E-3 Senty AWACS takes off in the desert.

An E-3 Senty AWACS takes off in the desert.

The Control and Reporting Centers have been deployed to Southwest Asia almost continuously since 1980.

The Control and Reporting Centers have been deployed to Southwest Asia almost continuously since 1980.

Tinker AFB, Okla. -- During their latest deployment to Southwest Asia, the 963rd Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron helped the 552nd Air Control Wing surpass the 10,000 flying hour mark since the E-3 AWACS returned to the desert in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM in March 2007.

"This is a significant milestone and shows the commitment and dedication of the 552 ACW and 380th Air Expeditionary Wing operations, maintenance and communications teams to the War on Terrorism in OIF and OEF," said Lt. Col. Robert Haines, commander, 963 EAACS. "Every hour is important and represents air power support to our coalition forces in the air and on the ground."

Colonel Haines deployed in January with 144 Airmen from the 963 AACS and 75 Airmen from the 552nd Maintenance Group as the wing's sixth rotation to the Area of Responsibility. It is the squadron's second time in the AOR since the 552 ACW's initial return to Southwest Asia in March 2007.

According to Colonel Haines, the squadron's main job while deployed is "to make sure the right air assets are safely in the right place at the right time to support the ground war." He explained, "we continuously have to de-conflict different types of air space to ensure safe coordination between various aircraft and ground combat operations."

During every hour of the E-3 AWACS mission, crewmembers are constantly managing air operations to enhance combat effectiveness and ensure safety, he said.

"The 10,000 hour milestone represents an incredible display of teamwork and integration of skills to achieve our combined mission - air power in the AOR," Colonel Haines said.

And the Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadrons have made significant contributions to providing that top-notch air power. In just the past two years, they have controlled over 19,000 aircraft, assisted over 700 Troops-in-Contact events, supported over 10,000 kill boxes, and enabled the off-load of 126 million pounds of fuel from tanker aircraft to support combat assets in OEF and OIF, according to Colonel Haines.

However, these accomplishments did not come without challenges. "The extremely congested working airspaces and number of agencies coordinating in those airspaces" make the job far from easy, explained Lt. Col. George Wilson, III, director of operations, 963 EAACS.

On top of that, for every hour spent in the air, many, many more hours of hard work are logged on the ground. "10,000 hours represents a lot of sorties," said Capt. Jason Troutman, Sentry Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, "but that is really just the tip of the iceberg. For every hour an E-3 is on station, there are many more hours of preparation mission planning and still more hours out on the flight line in maintenance and generation."

According to Captain Troutman, it has taken "plenty of sweat, a few tears, and even a little bit of blood" to reach this milestone. But, he said, "it is an indication of our enduring commitment to this area of operations. The 552 ACW has established itself as the premier command and control platform in the region and we'll continue bringing our best to the fight as long as our unique capabilities are needed."

Despite the hard work, Colonel Wilson says "it is rewarding to know that we are actively either protecting coalition lives on the ground or eliminating enemies every single day we fly." And there have been almost 800 days of flying since March 2007; however, these two years are just a tiny piece of a much bigger picture.

The 552 ACW has been engaged in mission-critical operations in Southwest Asia and around the world almost continuously since October 1980 -- an achievement which only the 552 ACW can boast.

According to Mr. Curtis Swift, historian, 552 ACW, and Ms. Ruth Ovitt, operations analyst, 552nd Operations Support Squadron, the wing's support to Central Command began initially with European Liaison Force 1 (ELF-1) from 1980 to 1989, then Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM in 1991, Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, Operations NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH from 1991 through 2003, the first round of support to Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM from 2001 to 2003, and finally the current phase of support to OEF and OIF beginning in 2007.

In addition to the deployments to CENTCOM, the wing has supported counter-drug operations in South America since 2004, and has deployed at a moment's notice in support of the President of the United States, to provide search and rescue aid after natural disasters, and in the interest of Homeland Security.
Due to the high demand for the unique capabilities of the E-3 AWACS, there have been fewer than two years in the past 29 that all of the E-3s were back at home station.

Therefore, while the 10,000 hour milestone during this most recent deployment to the AOR is significant, it is a drop in the bucket when considering the more than 20,028 E-3 sorties flown and 206,109 hours tallied in support of America's engagement in Southwest Asia, according to Mr. Swift's and Ms. Ovitt's calculations.

"The last two years are a small representation of what we have been doing for the past 29," said Col. Pat Hoffman, commander, 552 ACW. "While it has taken hard work, determination and unwavering commitment to reach the 10,000 hour milestone during these critical current operations, these 10,000 hours are less than five percent of the total time we have spent providing premier Command and Control/Battle Management in Southwest Asia."

This is not even taking into account the equally important work of the Expeditionary Air Control Squadrons that are part of the 552nd Air Control Group. The EACSs operate Control and Reporting Centers (CRCs) that provide a C2 capability comparable to the E-3 AWACS, but do so using a ground-based system.

The CRCs have also been continually deployed to the CENTCOM AOR since ELF-1 in 1980 and have supported many of the same operations as their airborne counterparts.

"The CRCs are so integral to C2/Battle Management within both OEF and OIF that they now occupy fixed sites in the CENTCOM AOR," said Col. Scott Fischer, commander, 552 ACG, "which means that CRCs provide 24/7 C2/Battle Management operations to support both joint and multi-coalition forces."

The total number of hours that CRCs have monitored the skies of Southwest Asia is indeterminable; the grand total would approach the age of some of the Airmen who are responsible for maintaining and operating the CRC weapons system, said Colonel Fischer.

This means, for almost the past thirty years, Airmen from the 552 ACW have been packing their bags and leaving behind family and friends to spend months in the desert, helping to ensure our Nation's freedom.

"The amount of time and effort that our Airmen have committed to supporting our Nation's engagement in the CENTCOM AOR is tremendous," said Colonel Hoffman. "As a wing, the Airmen and their families have made huge sacrifices to meet the needs of our Nation and provide top-notch Command and Control capabilities to commanders in theater."

"The Airmen of 'America's Wing' have been doing amazing things in the AOR, not just since March 2007, but every day since we've been there," said Colonel Hoffman, "and will continue to answer our Nation's call anytime, anywhere!"