The E-3 Sentry Puzzle: Air and Senior Surveillance Technicians

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lorraine Amaro
  • 552 Air Control Wing
There are many people in the 552nd Air Control Wing who aid in each successful E-3 Sentry mission, and every person is an integral piece of the big wing puzzle: communications, maintenance, flyers and the Airmen who support them.

Like all the other pieces of the AWACS puzzle, the air and senior surveillance technicians fulfill essential roles in order to complete the mission. They also happen to provide the foundation on which the entire AWACS mission is built - radar surveillance. 

The surveillance section is responsible for detecting, identifying and tracking all aircraft, foreign and domestic. 

"We paint out the AWACS picture. We need to know where the bad guys are, so our tracking has to be completely accurate. Because everything happens so fast, we have to make sure the fighters know exactly what is happening at all times," said Senior Airman Henry Moreno, an air surveillance technician for the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron. 

The job begins with the air surveillance technicians who initiate contact with the aircraft, maintain tracking and identify them as friend or foe. If identified as foe, the ASTs pass the information to the air weapons officers to take further action. 

"In theater you have command agencies on the ground that need to know what kind of threats are airborne at the time. We send them what we're seeing and they can make a decision based off of that," said Staff Sgt. Travis Wickenhauser, a senior surveillance technician for the 964th AACS. 

The senior surveillance technician is responsible for supervising the ASTs onboard, as well as producing data links to share information with other organizations such as ground control and watercrafts. An SST is an upgrade from an AST. After showing leadership abilities and acquiring a certain number of hours, the ASTs are recommended for the position. 

All ASTs and SSTs are evaluated annually by a fellow AST who is of higher rank and has shown their absolute knowledge of the job.

"In the standards and evaluations office we track the records of 45 - 50 ASTs and there are only two evaluators," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Heck, an evaluator for ASTs. "If someone fails an evaluation, additional training is assigned to bring them back up to speed. We need everyone to be up to par at all times."

In the end, teamwork is what brings the career field together at the best and worst times. 

"Crew integration is my favorite part of the job. Coming together as a team is the most amazing feeling; you really feel like you're a part of something big," said Sergeant Wickenhauser.