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Sixth OIF deployment complete, 728th home for now

Senior Airman Robert Sochor, 728th Air Control Squadron surveillance technician, receives a welcome home hug after returning from his first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with his unit Sept. 21. As one of the Air Force’s four unique Control and Reporting Centers, more than 150 members of the 728th ACS provided command and control of joint air operations using surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and theater data links while overseas. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

Senior Airman Robert Sochor, 728th Air Control Squadron surveillance technician, receives a welcome home hug after returning from his first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with his unit Sept. 21. As one of the Air Force’s four unique Control and Reporting Centers, more than 150 members of the 728th ACS provided command and control of joint air operations using surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and theater data links while overseas. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

Captain Eric Bein, 728th Air Control Squadron air battle manager, receives a welcome home hug after returning from his first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with his unit Sept. 21. As one of the Air Combat Command’s four unique Control and Reporting Centers, more than 150 members of the 728th ACS provided command and control of joint air operations using surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and theater data links while overseas. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

Captain Eric Bein, 728th Air Control Squadron air battle manager, receives a welcome home hug after returning from his first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with his unit Sept. 21. As one of the Air Combat Command’s four unique Control and Reporting Centers, more than 150 members of the 728th ACS provided command and control of joint air operations using surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and theater data links while overseas. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- More than 150 members of 728th Air Control Squadron, an associate unit here, returned from Southwest Asia Sept. 21, after supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom since May.

"They provided persistent command and control to the joint service there, a 24/7 job," said Col. Scott Fischer, commander of the 552nd Air Control Group, Tinker AFB, Okla.

Their group leadership, local squadron members, community and a volunteer welcoming crew from Air Force Army and Exchange Services came out to the aircraft on Eglin's ramp to greet them. They were immediately bused to their squadron and let out into a sea of family and friends with open arms, tears and banners.

As one of the Air Combat Command's four unique Control and Reporting Centers, the 728th ACS provides command and control of joint air operations using surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and theater data links.

"We kept ourselves busy, especially when we were moving and maintaining equipment. The days just ran together," said Senior Airman Joseph Fleming, 728th ACS, who was responsible for setting up new satellite and communications sites.

At home, Katie Fleming said time went by fast but she and their sons were happy to have him back home and look forward to making up for missed birthdays.

The 728th ACS homecoming marks the end of the sixth deployment the squadron has supported since 2003 and will continue to deploy on a rotating schedule with other Air Force CRCs.

Deploying as a squadron was a highlight for one Airman although being welcomed by family from Philadelphia, Pa., was a surprise upon return.

"The most memorable part of the deployment was the interpersonal skills of working with everyone and watching the development of the squadron as the time went by," said Capt. Kisha Balling, 728th ACS senior director, who supervised a crew of up to 15 personnel daily while overseas. "We all got the chance to really get to know the whole crew and interact together."

A CRC is a highly-deployed ground mobile command, control and communications radar element of the Air Force theater air control system. Similar to the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, a CRC integrates a comprehensive air picture via multiple data links from air-, sea-, and land-based sensors, as well as from its surveillance and control radars, from the ground. As a result of the activation of the 552nd Air Control Group last year, AWACS and CRCs now report to the same wing.

Once rest and relaxation are over for the returning Airmen, they begin work by immediately spinning up the next CRC that filled their place overseas and train to deploy again in a few months as part of the ongoing rotation cycle.

Other Air Force CRCs are the 607th ACS at Luke AFB, Ariz.; the 726th ACS at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and the 729th ACS at Hill AFB, Utah.