The E-3 Sentry Puzzle: mission crew commanders

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lorraine Amaro
  • 552nd Air Control Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: The E-3 Sentry Puzzle is a series of stories with a new section feature released every month.)

There are many people in the 552nd Air Control Wing that 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.
The mission crew commander, or MCC, is one of those key pieces that make the mission run smoothly and safely.

"A mission crew commander is the conductor in the back of the (Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft)," said Lt. Col. David Johnson, 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron director of operations. "The primary mission of the mission crew commander is to make sure all the different branches of the mission crew are working in concert with each other to accomplish the overall objective of the aircraft."

The most fun about being an MCC, said Col. Johnson, is getting to see that overall mission accomplishment. MCCs understand all the different departments and see them come together for the mission objective.

But with this enjoyment also comes difficulties in the form of trust, and in tight quarters these issues can seem amplified.

"The hardest part about our job is listening," said Maj. Bruce Barnes, a Canadian Component MCC with the 964th AACS. "Our job is to talk, to communicate and to push people. You're constantly monitoring and managing people so the most difficult job is to sit back and listen to the crew.

"You constantly want to jump up and check their work," Maj. Barnes said. "So allowing them to learn, do things themselves and feed back the information can be difficult."
From the crew's point of view, the MCC has a huge responsibility.

"The MCC is the final declaration authority for enemy aircraft on our jet," said 2nd Lt. Greg Weigel, a 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron air weapons officer. "They coordinate between the flight deck and mission crew during flights. We can't do our job in the back if the front doesn't know what's going on."

The Airmen also understand the importance of the MCC's guidance in conjunction to the mission.

"If we did not have a mission crew commander, things would be difficult for all the technicians," said Senior Airman Angie Vaca, a 964th AACS air radar technician. "We would have to communicate through several channels instead of just one. The MCC keeps the crew on task and vigilant."

MCC is not a job someone is put into after basic training. It is earned with time and experience.

"You normally have to start in another position on the airplane," said Maj. Bruce Barnes. "It's a job for an officer so most will start out at a weapons controller, learning how to control fighters. Then you will be promoted to positions like senior director, air surveillance operator or system operator.

"After several years of stepping up through the airplane and promotions, you will be selected because you have good situational awareness and a good understanding of how the plane operates."

MCC isn't the only job flyers have to handle. Since this is a field grade position, almost all MCCs have additional duties that range from squadron command to wing directorate leadership to Operations Support Squadron flight leadership.

While performing MCC duties, the sorties they work on can last several hours and at one time or another, a plane can find itself being diverted to another base for weather or mechanical problems. With all of this, most Airmen still find a sense of enjoyment and pride in their work.

With the good and the bad, Col. Johnson and Airmen like him know the importance of their job.

"MCCs are the focal point of the mission for the E-3. They are the single point of contact for the air operations center," Col. Johnson said. "Essentially, they are the belly button that the joint forces air component commander looks to in order to accomplish the airborne air command and control mission. They are vital to a theater."