552 ACW shines during POTUS support mission in Peru

  • Published
  • By Capt. Renee Powell
  • 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron
In November 2008, the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron received a short-notice tasking to deploy to Peru to provide support to the President of the United States. The President was in Lima, Peru to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Conference along with other world leaders.

Due to the in-operable status of the radar sites that normally provide Air Traffic Control support along the Peruvian coast, the 552nd Air Control Wing was called to provide radar and radio coverage before and during the President's visit.

The 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron along with augmentation from the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron answered the call and deployed to two locations in Peru. The E-3 Sentries and their crews journeyed to the city of Chiclayo, located on the north coast of Peru, while additional air battle managers were imbedded with the United States Secret Service at the second location in Lima.

While airborne, the crew operating the Airborne Warning and Control System was in constant communication with the ABMs and Secret Service members on ground. The ABMs on the ground had the enormous responsibility of translating for the Peruvian and Secret Service, then relaying information back to the crews operating the AWACS in the air.

Thanks to the diversity of the air battle manager career field, the ABMs on ground in Lima were specifically selected for their ability to speak Spanish fluently, which enabled them to communicate effectively with host-nation leadership.

The Peruvian government provided each AWACS crew with a host-nation rider while flying over their territory.

When asked how he felt about flying with the United States, host-nation rider Maj. Luis Brignardello said, "it is a very good professional experience in which it is a pleasure to meet and know new friends that are very nice and that share the same professional likes. They made us feel as if we were at home."

Additionally, Major Brignardello said he personally felt that the United States Air Force "is very professional in which it looks for perfection which is very important for any air force in the world."

"Today, the threat that encompasses the world has forced nations to unite in order to combat (threats) in the best way. If those countries (in the past) united like today we would have made the serious threat almost (disappear) for the world. Terrorism is a global problem," said Major Brignardello.

On the topic of working with the United States in the future he said, "It is clear that these jobs together help two counties against the struggle of internal danger, such as terrorism. It helps us with knowing how to fight it in the best way."

The deployed AWACS team flew sixteen missions from an austere airfield, totaling over 72 hours time-on-station. When asked about his most memorable experience, Lieutenant Col. Eddie Boxx, director of operations, 964 AACS, said two things stood out.

"The teamwork and the expeditionary mindset of the 552 ACW was unbelievable. We were given a short notice, high visibility, 'no fail' tasking and the aviators along with the communication, security police, and maintenance personnel just made it all come together," Colonel Boxx said.

"As we woke up the first morning in Peru to the sounds of roosters crowing, loud salsa music, and South American traffic noise, it just proves that we have to be ready to deploy anywhere, anytime at a moment's notice," he added.

While not flying, the crews enjoyed exploring the local community. The local farmers' market had a wide array of goods - everything from underwear, guinea pigs (considered a delicacy), and vegetables.

Lieutenant Col. Pamela Randall, 964 AACS, coordinated with members of the SOUTHCOM team to arrange a tour of the newly discovered ruins of the King of Sipan's tomb. The crews viewed intact tombs as well as new excavation sites that were partially buried. Afterwards, they visited the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan (Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan) where the artifacts from the excavation have been cleaned and preserved.

Lieutenant Col. Greg Kent, deployed commander, 552nd Operations Support Squadron, had nothing but praise for his team. "We battled a crumbling runway, extreme bird conditions, and a remote operating location. The wing took it all in stride and really hit a home run," he said.

"Comm, maintenance, and the ops crews worked hard, did things safely and took care of each other in a place we had never heard of until we deployed there," Colonel Kent said.

"Initially, the locals were not sure what to make of 'Bush's secret agents,' which is how the local paper described us, but after a few days of exemplary behavior, the Peruvians realized we were professionals and were there to help make the summit a success," said Colonel Kent.

He praised his Airmen saying, "the men and women of the 552nd truly represented the high caliber of professional USAF aviators while deployed to Peru. They provided flawless support for the President while at the same time serving as ambassadors in the international community. "