Demons show off warfighting skills during Turkey Shoot competition

The 728th Air Control Squadron selected Turkey Shoot competition team review a map of the Nevada Test and Training Range, where the simulated war took place during a March exercise. From left to right are Airman 1st Class Robert Sochor, Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith, Senior Airman Lisa Mills, Staff Sgt. LaToya Johnson, Capt. Kisha Balling and Staff Sgt. Anthony Rigazio.

The 728th Air Control Squadron selected Turkey Shoot competition team review a map of the Nevada Test and Training Range, where the simulated war took place during a March exercise. From left to right are Airman 1st Class Robert Sochor, Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith, Senior Airman Lisa Mills, Staff Sgt. LaToya Johnson, Capt. Kisha Balling and Staff Sgt. Anthony Rigazio.

Eglin AFB, Fla. -- Just a few weeks prior to deploying to OIF, the 728th Air Control Squadron "Demons" had an opportunity to test their newly honed skills in and Air Combat Command Turkey Shoot 30 March through 3 April. 

"It was a unique opportunity to be a part of this competition because for the first time the three stateside Air Control Squadrons and teams from JSTARS at Robins Air Force Base and the B-1 units from Dyess and McConnell AFBs participated," said Capt. Jason Zemler, 728 ACS assistant director of operations. "This is the first time the three control and reporting centers have competed against each other in a Turkey Shoot. Typically, the CRCs will have their crews compete against each other while supporting their fighter wing's shoot." 

Also unique to the event was its competitors. Crews consisted of a senior director, two weapons directors, an air surveillance technician and two surveillance technicians. The Demons had one crew compete against several teams from Mountain Home and Hill AFBs. 

"I was surprised to see the different core skill sets required by the scenario," said Capt. Kisha Balling, 728 ACS senior director, who was in charge of mission planning and briefing crews. "Instead of the combat air support operations overseas or air-to-air operations during our unit's participation in the Red Flag exercise, this scenario included a no-fly zone, planned strike missions and dedicated CAS assets." 

All assets except the JSTARS and B-1 were simulated by the Distributed Training Operations Center, Sioux City, Iowa. The Air National Guard's center personnel are civilian contractors and military pilots who drive the virtual assets to deliver any scenario requested by the user. This is the second time ACC has hosted a "virtual" turkey shoot tying in assets from around the globe to provide the highest level of realism and competition.

Capt. Zemler was impressed with the Demons ability to take the source documents and create refined products to be used in the execution. 

"But in keeping with the 'March Madness,' the Cinderella dream team did not make it to the final round," he said. "Due to technical issues with the virtual link, the scheduled time for the event had to be cancelled, knocking out the Demons as well as the B-1 and JSTARS teams scheduled for that day." 

Regardless of how far the 728 ACS went in the Turkey Shoot playoffs, squadron members were able to use their skills in a virtual training environment and show some skills. The lessons learned from this competition makes us a stronger team in our upcoming deployment. 

Assigned to the 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker AFB, Okla., the 728th's mission is focused around providing air control (radar) services for combat air operations. The 728 ACS provides a mobile, combat-rated, senior radar element of the Theater Air Control System for worldwide contingencies. 

The 728 ACS deploys as a squadron on a recurring basis and plan to leave again this summer. They have supported two deployments in the last year and usually station themselves overseas for six months. Squadron members come from a variety of career fields, including maintenance, vehicle maintenance, and operators to support surveillance of the skies.