Guardians of the battlefield

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Beatrice Brown
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
Airmen in the Sentry Aircraft Maintenance Unit may not wear bracelets that allow for cross-universe teleportation or maintain interstellar starships or have laser weapons like the heroes in the Guardians of the Galaxy. However, these Airmen maintain the E-3 Sentry, which makes them heroes to the guardians of the battlefield in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility.

The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, aircraft with an integrated command and control battle management, or C2BM, surveillance, target detection, and tracking platform. The aircraft provides an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Center.

"We provide command and control battle management to the combatant commanders here in the AOR," said 1st Lt. Amanda, Sentry AMU officer in-charge. "We are the eyes in the sky, the guardian."

These guardians blend several special powers, ranging from radar to hydraulics, and band together to ensure the E-3 Sentry AWACS maintains its operational capability.

"My duties include performing inlet and exhaust inspections," said Staff Sgt. Derek, aerospace propulsion craftsman. "This includes general maintenance of the engines such as servicing oil and repairing the integrated drive generator."

My mission it to make sure the engines are able to get the jet off the ground so it can go do what it is meant to do, added Derek.

Once airborne, AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations.

"Seeing the jet get off the ground is the most rewarding part of my job," said Derek currently deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and a native of Waterboro, Maine. "Hearing about what they have done when it comes back is just as rewarding."

Another key responsibility that enables the E-3 Sentry to be mission capable is radar technicians.

"I maintain the radar and make sure it is operational," said Senior Airman Travis, surveillance and radar technician. "I repair sulfur hexafluoride leaks, transmitters and change parts and circuit cards up in the rotodome."

My primary mission is to make sure the aircrews have reliable radar in the air so they can command and control aircraft, added Travis.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance is more than overhead imagery. Airmen provide leaders at all levels with global, integrated, actionable intelligence from multiple sources, including platforms, sensors, people and databases.

Just as superheroes need special abilities to accomplish their mission, Airmen in Sentry AMU need special qualities to ensure mission success as well.

"You need to know your job backwards and forwards," said Travis, currently deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and a native of Snohomish, Wash. "This jet is old and it breaks a lot, so if you don't know your job then you are not going to be able to support the mission."

The guardians have enabled E-3 AWACS crews to make significant contributions on the battlefield.

"Since we began flying Operation Inherent Resolve, Sentry has controlled 21,625 coalition aircraft and 1,122 kinetic effects, which can be anything from planned airstrikes to requests for close air support," said Amanda, currently deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and a native of Manahawkin, N.J.

Iraqi Security Forces and Kabul Security Forces ground operations, supported by Coalition airstrikes, have stalled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant advances in Iraq and impeded the group's ability to gain control of contested territory. Although ISIL is not yet defeated, its continued loss of territory makes it appear less credible.

Through Jan. 31, 2015, there have been 2,813 sorties flown by U.S. and coalition ISR aircraft supporting OIR. These missions enabled the release of 8,194 weapons, while 36,591 aircraft have been refueled with over 363 million pounds of fuel.

"The airspace is obviously very crowded," said Amanda. "There are a lot of different aspects between when someone has to get gas and when someone has to drop a bomb. The Airmen in Sentry AMU are the reason our mission is happening. There is no battle without [AWACS] and these guys provide everything."