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968th EAACS hit 50k combat flying hours in under 7-years

The 968th EAACS celbrated 50,000 combat flying hours at Al Dhafra Air BAse.

Aircrew with the 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron pose for a photo prior to conducting a combat sortie on the Al Dhafra Air Base flight line, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 11, 2020. The 968th, which includes both U.S. Air Force members and Royal Canadian Air force Members, completed 50,000 combat flying hours since being activated nearly 7-years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)

A KC-135 conducts air refueling with a E-3G Sentry.

A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron’s E-3G Sentry over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Feb. 11, 2020. The “Panthers” completed 50,000 combat flying hours since being activated nearly 7-years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)

A KC-135 conducts air refueling with a E-3G Sentry.

A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron’s E-3G Sentry over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Feb. 11, 2020. The “Panthers” completed 50,000 combat flying hours since being activated nearly 7-years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)

A KC-135 conducts air refueling with a E-3G Sentry.

A group of maintainers from the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron pose in front of an E-3G Sentry assigned to the 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron prior to conducting a combat sortie at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 11, 2020. The 968th completed 50,000 combat flying hours since being activated nearly 7-years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)

A KC-135 conducts air refueling with a E-3G Sentry.

U. S. Air Force 1st Lt. Emily Martin, 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron, co—pilot, prior to conducting a combat sortie Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 11, 2020. The 968th completed 50,000 combat flying hours since being activated nearly 7-years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Williams)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES --

The 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron (EAACS) hit a major milestone in February, surpassing 50,000 flying combat hours since being activated nearly 7 years ago.

The 968th  EAACS mission is to fly the E-3G Sentry, which is a modified Boeing 707 with a rotating radar dome that delivers real-time tactical decision-making and battlefield awareness to U.S. and partner nation assets.

“It’s kind of a big deal because it’s a lot of effort,” said Lt. Col. Alan Meadows, Commander of the 968th EAACS. “It’s been a lot of hard work and sacrifice by all including the families back home. I’m proud of the folks doing the work on this as we recognize the milestone.”

Since being activated, the “Panthers” compiled over 36,360 hours of on-station time over Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and the Arabian Gulf; controlled more than 169,000 aircraft on combat missions and 2,800 strikes against enemy ground targets. 5,000 airmen have deployed wearing the Panther patch, keeping an aircraft airborne 82 percent of the time.

“It takes a lot of perseverance, patience and dedication to get here,” said Lt. Col. Anne Portlock, 968th EAACS assistant director of operations and pilot. “Always ready - that’s a great way to describe it. Some flights are not very eventful and some of them are very, very busy. Regardless of the situation, we are up there always prepared for whatever is going to happen. We’re the eyes in the sky.”

The mission includes a partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force which has members serving at Tinker Air Force Base and deploying alongside their allies in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

“We just celebrated 40 years of being with those from Tinker,“ said Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. Shawn Guilbault, mission crew commander. “I’m proud to be a part of the milestone here. There’s nothing like doing the job to bring folks together for a common purpose.”

The E-3G Sentry has a surveillance range of more than 250 miles and a crew of approximately 20 members who work with numerous avionics, navigation, communications sensors and identification tools as they perform tactical command and control surveillance, and electronic combat functions. The aircraft was recently modified to integrate internet based communication, allowing the crew to communicate with aircrews and agencies around the area of responsibility simultaneously, significantly enhancing the platforms’ battle management capabilities.

“Everything we do back home is so we can come out here and support this mission,” said Master Sgt. Stanley Thomas Chatham, 968th EAACS E-3 evaluator communication technician. “The thing you learn most about yourself flying combat missions is what you can handle and what you can deal with. It makes you a stronger person. Knowing that you can make it through this speaks to the level of adversity you as a person can handle and that us as a group, the 968th, can endure. 50,000 flying hours is a major mark and it speaks to the enduring nature of the squadron we have out here.”