AWACS maintainers, crew surpass 50 consecutive combat missions

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron surpassed 50 consecutive combat missions for the E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System this month.

Maintaining a consecutive combat mission record requires flying and maintenance squadrons to meet every theater air tasking order while balancing aircrew and maintenance requirements.

“The streak is unmatched in recent 968th EAACS history and we bested the previous record of 34 set back in August,” explained Maj. Michael Digirolamo, 968th EAACS chief of mission planning, who also confirmed the streak is currently at 58 missions and counting. 

The 968th EAACS mission is to deliver real-time tactical decision-making and battlefield awareness to U.S. and partner nation assets via the E-3G AWACS.

The E-3G, maintained by the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s Sentry aircraft maintenance unit, is the newest model of the E-3 Sentry. The aircraft is a modified Boeing 707 with a rotating radar dome which boasts upgraded mission systems, more advanced internet protocol options, and better human-machine interface in addition to providing operators superior situational awareness.

“It is truly a testament to all the people on the operations side, and equally important is our maintenance team,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Waterman, 968th EAACS director of operations. “We’ve had outstanding relationships with Capt. Joseph Fowler, our officer in charge of Sentry maintenance, and Senior Master Sgt. Nick Baron, the superintendent of Sentry AMU. They’ve been tremendous and they’ve truly led their people well to have the aircraft ready for us to go and execute the mission.”

Leaders from the 968th EAACS and 380th EAMXS Sentry AMU agree teamwork and communication were essential to reaching this milestone.

“Our relationship with the 968th EAACS has been vital to this accomplishment,” said Baron. “Both parties have established a ‘what can we do for you’ dialogue as opposed to a ‘what can you do for me’ approach. Continuous maintenance-operations cross talks also prove to be vital to our success.”

Baron further explained the initiative taken by Sentry AMU Airmen was another crucial factor in the unit’s success. Sentry AMU is comprised of Airmen assigned to nine different Air Force Specialty Codes, and tasks falling under those specific career fields aren’t always available. Rather than waiting for work directly associated with their specialty, Sentry AMU Airmen assist each other as tasks pop up. This not only provides for more effective and efficient maintenance, but also creates opportunities to learn about aircraft systems that would otherwise be unfamiliar. Baron said the end result is a unit comprised of more valuable and well-rounded maintainers.

“Ultimately it comes down to allowing the guys the freedom to take calculated risks and be innovative,” explained Baron. “There are many constraints being an AMU in Southwest Asia, but those constraints provoke creativity and that has proven to have the potential to create more efficient and effective ways of executing the mission. We have to continue to embrace that creativity and stop being pigeon-holed by ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ Fortunately our leadership in EAMXS and the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group have been spectacular in giving us the freedom to allow the guys to execute the mission the way we see fit and accepting reasonable failure along the way.”