552nd CRCs: Home at last

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
The 552nd Air Control Wing recently accomplished a feat that had not been achieved in nine years.

As of July, all four of the contiguous United States-based control and reporting centers' units were back from the Middle East. While it's not a permanent condition as a new rotation begins in January, officials said it is a testament to the Airmen and their dedication to the mission.

"Having all the CRCs back in the continental United States for the first time since 2003 is a sign of the CRCs persistence in providing combat commanders the command and control that is needed to execute the mission," said Lt. Col. Richard "Bull" Boyd, 552nd Air Control Group deputy commander. "This is a big deal because it's a quality-of-life issue for the Airmen. They're on a treadmill of always being gone. It's a big deal to say everyone's home. Additionally, it is a testament to the outstanding efforts of thousands of Airmen that have deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn and Enduring Freedom."

The control and reporting centers are communications radar tools that incorporate several data links - air, sea and land-based sensors - to build an all-inclusive picture. They conduct threat warnings, battle management, theater missile defense, weapons control, combat identification and strategic communications.

Since 2003, Colonel Boyd estimates 9,000 CRC Airmen have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. While there, the CRC units maintained the airspace, ensuring it was safe for military and civilian aircraft. They cleared fighters that supported ground troops, tankers that refueled the fighters and coordinated unmanned aerial vehicles to avoid mid-air collisions.

Squadrons operated on a 1:1.2 dwell, meaning the troops were deployed for six months, home for seven-and-a-half months and gone again for six months. Additionally, when troops were home, they were busy training, preparing for inspections and deployments, or executing field exercises.

"The dedication of our Airmen inspires me daily through the constant deployments and challenges the CRCs pull together as a close-knit team to get the mission done and rely on our sister CRCs to provide critical personnel to meet deployment shortfalls," said Lt. Col. Darin Humiston, 729th Air Control Squadron commander at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "I think the high operations tempo and 99-percent uprate of our radars also speaks to every supervisor and Airman in this community in terms of their training discipline and professionalism."

Lt. Col. Trent Carpenter agreed. He is the former 726th Air Control Squadron commander out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; who returned from deployment in July.

"Without the steadfast, strong support systems in place, the combat focus of the members would be degraded and significantly impact overall mission execution," he said.

While the high-operations tempo was demanding, Colonel Boyd said it was also necessary.

"They have saved countless American and coalition lives by the mere fact that they controlled the airspace and could move airplanes around to support the troops on the ground," he said. "If we hadn't been there, you can't really count how many more lives would have been lost.

"The Army and Marines now realize you have to have airspace controlled for them to be able to do their mission. I think in the past it was assumed it would be there," the colonel said. "But now, over the last nine years, the commanders on the ground realize they need to have Airmen in control of the airspace and they know how valuable that is."

For two of the six total CRC squadrons -- 728th Air Control Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla; and 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy -- this past rotation was their last deployment.

Beginning in January, three squadrons -- the 729th ACS, the 726th ACS and 606th Air Control Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany -- will rotate in and out of Qatar and Afghanistan. Airmen will deploy for six months and come home for a year.

"We still have to have Airmen deployed, even though there's a drawdown and everyone's talking about reducing our footprint in everything over there in the Middle East," Colonel Boyd said. "They were the first ones in because they are controlling support and coverage for all the folks that are on the ground, and although they're getting a break right now, they'll be one of the last ones out. We're there 24/7."