Reserve AWACS returns to the Hawaiian Islands

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Caleb Wanzer
  • 513th Air Control Group Public Affairs

Reservists from the 513th Air Control Group finished their last day of Sentry Aloha 17-01 on Feb. 3 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, marking a full two weeks of successful missions in one of the best training events in the unit's history.


The Sentry Aloha exercise was hosted by the Hawaiian Air National Guard's 154th Wing and involved multiple fighter, refueling and cargo aircraft primarily from Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units.


“It's been absolutely amazing,” said Lt. Col. David Cavazos, the Sentry Aloha Detachment Commander. “We've controlled about 325 aircraft and have trained in every facet of capability that we need to be proficient in for mission execution.”


The daily missions have included simulated offensive and defensive scenarios involving Air Force and Navy fighter aircraft, involving as many as 26 airplanes at a time.


“For the 513th, Sentry Aloha offered a higher level of training than possible in the continental United States,” he said.


The reservists deployed to Hickam Field and flew 100 percent of the missions planned, despite encountering multiple maintenance issues with the E-3 Sentry.


“It's vital for us to get every sortie that we can,” Cavazos said. “Every mission set is a rare opportunity, and we want to take full advantage of each one. Hats off to our reserve maintainers; their experience and dedication is what got this jet ready and kept it flying.”


Tech. Sgt. Isaac Van Cleave, a radar specialist assigned to the 513th Maintenance Squadron, was one of the maintenance Airmen ensuring the E-3 Sentry was ready for flight each day.


“One night we were out working on the jet until 2 a.m.,” Van Cleave said. “We always make sure we have enough people to fix the issues, but we’re out there until the job is done.”


The maintenance challenges that came with Sentry Aloha gave Van Cleave, a traditional reservist, a change to refresh his troubleshooting skills.


“I've been able to break some of the rust off,” he said. “Radar is a big system, so there's a lot of stuff we don't see too often. It's a good time to dig back into the technical orders, get my hands dirty with the jet and get reacquainted.”


The 513th also used Sentry Aloha as a test bed for new software, hardware and communications capabilities for the AWACS platform.


“We validated a $1.8 million E-3 software upgrade during the exercise and identified errors and points for improvement,” said Maj. Anne Ridlon, the chief of tactics for the 513th Operations Support Squadron. “We also coordinated efforts with Navy EA-18G Growlers, which gave us some unmatched jamming training in an environment which is rarely seen in other training.”


During the exercise, the AWACS reservists flew nine missions with a total of 46 hours in the air.