By 1Lt Kinder L. Blacke, 552d Air Control Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 10, 2008
10 November 2008 --
When the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron returned from Southwest Asia in September, they had some impressive accomplishments to look back on.
The 142 Airmen in the 960th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron were led by Lt. Col. Lawrence Brundidge, commander, 960th AACS for four and a half months as they fulfilled their mission in the Global War on Terror.
"Our main objective when we deployed was to provide the theater with full spectrum air battle management anytime/anywhere to protect coalition lives. Providing proactive airborne command and control to air assets in our battle management areas in accordance with higher headquarters guidance was the key to accomplishing this objective and ensuring that air power was in the right place at the right time to support the ground commanders' schemes of maneuver in both Iraq and Afghanistan." Colonel Brundidge said.
"There was an amazing amount of teamwork amongst the four platforms: the E-3, KC-10, U-2 and Global Hawk," Colonel Brundidge said. "All the units worked together to provide the best command and control and ISR capability possible for the theater."
According to Lt. Col. Jeff Wardell, director of operations, 960th AACS, during their rotation, the squadron flew over 150 sorties, with over 1700 hours in the air. They directly controlled over 6,400 aircraft, and supported over 350 requests for air cover from troops on the ground.
One of the most significant accomplishments made during the rotation involved "mIRC," or the Internet Relay Chat system that is used as the number one command and control ability in theater for all air services, said Colonel Brundidge.
mIRC is basically the ability to text message from one aircraft to another and between aircraft and ground troops, explained Chief Master Sgt. William Lick, squadron chief, 960th AACS, who has been working to improve the mIRC capability and to create continuity so that units who deploy in the future can share in the success.
Colonel Wardell explained "before mIRC, most command and control information was passed using SATCOM or traditional line-of-sight radios. These two modes of communication limited access to certain players. mIRC opened the door for units who traditionally are not on the SATCOM radios to gain access to current theater information and impact real-time decision making."
The 960th AACS accomplished the first ever, 100 percent operational rate with mIRC during one of their sorties, said Colonel Brundidge.
"The mIRC system faces unique challenges on the E-3, so to accomplish a 100 percent operational rate is a big success," said Chief Master Sgt. Lick.
The 960th AACS was the first unit to deploy when the 552d Air Control Wing returned to Southwest Asia. While the first rotation was focused on integrating the E-3 into the command and control structure in place at the time, during the second rotation, they were able to focus on improving that structure, working out kinks, and establishing more autonomous execution concepts of operation for the E-3, Colonel Brundidge explained.
On top of their successes with mIRC, the 960th AACS was able to "reorganize and restructure the command and control responsibilities for the E-3, airspace-wise," Colonel Brundidge said, "which allowed for better C2 support to the Air Support Operations Center and the Joint Terminal Air Controller."
With the major integration issues the unit faced last year being resolved through the outstanding team efforts of the entire 552d Air Control Wing (initial footprint to employment), Colonel Brundidge admitted "this second time around went by a lot more quickly than the last!"
It seemed that this rotation was pleasant all around. "This was definitely the nicest deployment I have ever been on," said Master Sgt. Michael Mujwid, first sergeant, 960th AACS. "The only real challenge was figuring out the bed-down, but after that, there were no problems."
Colonel Wardell agreed, "looking back on the time in theater, the accomplishments are remarkable. We learned a lot and had to overcome operational and environmental challenges, yet no one ever complained. Everybody did their job."
One of the Airmen getting the job done was Senior Airman Jonathan Daniel, air surveillance technician, 960th AACS. "The best part about the deployment was getting to do our job the way it was meant to be done, in theater. You finally see the direct impact of what all of your training goes into," he said.
Despite the inevitable moments of homesickness, Senior Airman Daniel said that the crew remained upbeat. "This deployment really drove home the whole Wingman concept. Even in the hard times we had our wingmen to cheer us up. We all looked out for each other," he said.
"Everyone is drawn together by one mission, putting jets in the air to support the forces on the ground," said Colonel Wardell. "We were all working towards the same goal, and became closely knit in the process."
Yet even with fellow Wingmen to help pass the time, everybody was anxious to leave the 125o heat and return to family back home.
This was a final deployment for Chief Master Sgt. Lick who will be retiring in the coming year. "I'm ready to be home with my three kids and give my wife a break from playing the role of a single parent. It's time for me to play Mr. Mom!" he said.
Colonel Brundidge concluded: the 960th Vikings are happy to be back at home after a great deployment and are extremely proud to be part of Team Tinker and the 552--America's Premier Command and Control Wing.