JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
"At approximately 10 a.m. PST an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the ‘Vigilantes’ of Strike Fighter Squadron 151 based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, crashed east of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California. Search and rescue personnel are on scene and the status of the pilot is currently unknown,” read an initial statement from Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock, Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Public Affairs officer, shortly after the F/A-18E’s July 31 crash.
As recovery efforts began, response leaders quickly realized the remoteness of the crash area would hamper effective operations.
“The Navy reached out to our HAMMER Adaptive Communication Element because there was a serious need for communication services throughout their vast recovery area,” said Maj. William Raine, 51st Combat Communications Squadron deputy commander.
HAMMER ACE, based at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, provides rapid global response to support communications requirements for the war fighter. Its roots date back to the early 1980s when two nuclear incidents highlighted to the Department of Defense the need for a specialized team to establish secure command and control services for a variety of missions.
“We’re a specialized element within the 5th Combat Communications Group that provides rapid response to [contaminant] and aircraft mishaps,” said Raine. “There are three teams within the section that rotate on-call status over a two-week period. Upon notification any team must begin response within three hours.”
When the Navy’s call came, the section began preparing three Airmen and their equipment to travel from Robins AFB to the accident site – approximately 90 miles from the nearest military installation and an hour from the nearest town. The team arrived in under 12 hours, set up a communication network, and began providing secure voice and data services.
“The team, led by Staff Sgt. Anthony Coe, and included Senior Airmen Tyler McNaughton and Kirby Tjoland exemplified our HAMMER ACE mindset of providing vital communications within a moment’s notice to support on-scene command elements,” said Raine.
After extensive recovery efforts, a later statement confirmed that Navy Lt. Charles Walker, 33, perished in the crash.
Even in adversity, the joint response team rallied to support days’ long recovery operations.
“This is not the first time HAMMER ACE has been called upon to respond at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world … and it won’t be the last,” said Raine. “Our highly professional Airmen pride themselves on the legacy of HAMMER ACE and the ability to rapidly respond when called. We’re always ready.”