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Guarding the skies: 15,000 hours and still going strong

An E-3 looks for suspicious aircraft will patroling the skies over America

An E-3 looks for suspicious aircraft will patroling the skies over America

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla -- E-3 aircraft and crews have provided more than 15,000 hours of support to the Joint Interagency Task Force - South's mission to combat drug trafficking and associated narco-terrorism.

In November 2004, the first E-3 and crew arrived at Manta Air Base, Ecuador. They came to resume AWACS support of the international effort.

From bases in Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Curacao, and Florida the AWACS community has provided air support to the fight.

The aircraft and crews of the 552nd Air Control Wing have been involved in the counter-drug effort since the days of Joint Task Force FOUR, only interrupting its support to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the days following Sept. 11.

To put the amount of flight time in perspective, over the previous six years, AWACS crews have spent a cumulative time of over 625 days airborne in the search for air and surface targets.

"The E-3 Sentry is a reminder to our partner nations that we are committed to building regional stability and enduring partnerships in the AOR," said Col. Nicholas Myers, JIATF-S chief of staff.

The task force is a unique joint, interagency, international force, staffed by members of all U.S. military services, U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and liaison officers from 13 countries.

"Now days, we have advanced systems such as the E-3 AWACS but we also have black and white photos and old timers reminding us how it was operating cathode ray radar scopes in Key West back during the 1960s. It is important to know your roots and where you came from," said Lt Col Eddie Boxx, Detachment 2, 12th Air Force Commander and AFSOUTH liaison officer.

The organization traces its roots back to JTF-FOUR which was stood up in 1989, giving the Department of Defense the lead in detection and monitoring of international drug events. As the command grew and matured, it would prove its worth and be given additional responsibilities. Soon it would be given an ever-larger operating area to seek out drugs and those who would transport them to the U.S. shores.