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Rep. Tom Cole visits AF Reserve's only AWACS unit

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., talks with Col. David Robertson, the 513th Air Control Group Commander, during a briefing April 18 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. During Cole's visit, 513th Airmen explained the Air Force Reserve AWACS mission and the vital role it plays in flying and maintaing the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System. (Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb J. Wanzer)

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., talks with Col. David Robertson, the 513th Air Control Group Commander, during a briefing April 18 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. During Cole's visit, 513th Airmen explained the Air Force Reserve AWACS mission and the vital role it plays in flying and maintaing the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System. (Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Caleb J. Wanzer)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., visited the 513th Air Control Group at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., April 18 as part of a base-wide tour to hear the accomplishments of and issues facing military units at the base.

The 513th is an Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Tinker and is the only reserve unit to maintain and fly the E-3 Sentry, an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

During a morning briefing for the congressman, 513th Airmen explained how they support the AWACS mission by providing maintenance and aircrews when the active-duty 552nd Air Control Wing, also at Tinker, is unable to provide enough Airmen to fulfill mission requirements.

Cole asked questions during the briefing ranging from the proposed inactivation of the 513th to the unit's role in allied operations. He expressed appreciation for the Reservists during his visit and voiced his support of their mission at the Oklahoma-based installation.

"With this latest round of cuts, we've run the risk of cutting into military muscle," Cole said. "I don't think the president wants to leave the military less capable than when he found it, and Congress doesn't want to either."

Lt. Col. Steve England, the director of operations for the 513th's 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron, showcased the invaluable skill and experience found within the Airmen of the unit. The majority of 513th members served at the active-duty 552nd before becoming Reservists, England said. Allowing the Airmen to move to a part-time status allows the Air Force to keep experience maintenance and aircrew Airmen who don't need the training that new service members require. Typical training time for AWACS career fields ranges from eight months for certain aircrew positions to four years for radar and avionics maintenance jobs.

Col. David W. Robertson, the commander of the 513th ACG, appreciated Cole's visit to the unit.

"I was really pleased that he took time out of his busy schedule to visit the 513th and hear our story," Robertson said. "It's good to have people at his level able to tell our story and address the issues that we're facing."

Cole also visited Navy and active-duty Air Force units on base during his tour. First elected in 2002, he is the representative for the fourth district of Oklahoma.