Liberaider’s 20-year military career spent supporting JSTARS mission

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

Master Sgt. Hugh Hermes, Plans and Programs superintendent in the 461st Air Control Wing, was destined to be a Liberaider. 

Leaders who are Innovative, Balanced, Empowered, Ready, Adaptable, Inclusive, Disciplined, Empathetic and Relentless - They are the men and women that collectively make up the 461st ACW at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

About five months after graduating high school in 2001, the Illinois native took the first step in meeting his fate, joining the Air Force and heading to technical school.

Toward the end of tech school, Hermes was given a map with large dots marking the bases where he could be stationed as an airborne mission system specialist. That map turned out to be his dream sheet.

Hermes’ options for assignment locations included Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, Offutt AFB in Nebraska, Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, and Robins AFB.

“I looked at the map and thought Davis-Monthan AFB was too close to home,” he said. “Tinker AFB near Oklahoma City and Offutt AFB in Omaha were other options. Offutt did not sound that appealing. I selected Robins AFB, Georgia, as my number one option on my dream sheet to fly on the mighty Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.”

Little did Hermes know at the time, but this decision would define the bulk of his military career and allow him to be part of the JSTARS aircraft’s heritage.

Hermes has been part of the 461st ACW’s story from the start.

The 93rd Air Control Wing deactivated in September 2002. At the same time, the 116th Bomb Wing, an Air National Guard component, and the 93rd Air Control Wing, an active-duty military component, blended to create the 116th Air Control Wing.

Later, in 2011, the 116th ACW de-blended, with the 116th ACW remaining as the Guard unit and the 461st ACW being stood up as the active-duty military unit for the JSTARS mission at Robins.

“JSTARS has always had some portion of an active-duty military and Georgia Air National Guard construct since I arrived to Robins,” Hermes said. “The only thing that differentiates a 461st ACW Airman from a 116th ACW Airman is the patches we wear. Our mission is the exact same. We literally work side-by-side on a daily basis.”

Upon his arrival at Robins, Hermes began his flight training as a communications system technician, learning to perform the basic mission duties on board the aircraft, such as configuring all the radios and datalinks that we have onboard the aircraft.

After graduation, Hermes was sent to the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, where he deployed for the first time in June 2004.

Hermes spent the next 42 months on a constant deployment rotation, primarily supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and also Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Throughout the next few years, Hermes served in different capacities in different squadrons within the 461st ACW. Then, in late 2012, he made a brief permanent change of station to to Melbourne, Florida, to the Northrop Grumman Test Facility where he and others performed operational testing of software and hardware upgrades that JSTARS aircraft would receive.

“Our job was to make sure the new modifications to the aircraft operated as designed, and they met the needs of the warfighters,” he said. “In the summer of 2015, the JSTARS test detachment packed up and moved to Robins AFB due to the retirement of the JSTARS test aircraft. I stayed with that unit until August 2018.”

At that point, Hermes was assigned to his current role with the 461st ACW staff in the Plans and Programs Office.

The 38-year-old native Midwesterner said he has been fortunate to support the 461st ACW for so long.

“The only way I can explain that I have supported JSTARS for close to two decades is that I have been lucky,” he said. “I have had a couple of chances to move to different missions, but I chose to stay and support JSTARS every chance I was given.”

Though Hermes remained at Robins, he said he appreciates the JSTARS aircraft mission’s worldwide reach.

“I am sure my leadership or career field managers would have sent me to a different location or platform if I had requested it,” he said. “After my first deployment, I realized that JSTARS has a tremendous impact on day-to-day combat missions, either as command and control or theater-wide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission sets. Knowing that my actions directly impacted both the ground and air missions drove me to commit myself to the JSTARS mission and the 461st ACW.”

The Liberaider said he takes pride in being part of his unit’s heritage.

“It makes me proud to have seen where we have come from, to where we are today, and to think where we will be in the future,” he said. “Some of the people I have flown with over the years have told me they want to come back to Robins AFB and the JSTARS mission. I know how amazing and special our people and mission are. I don’t need to leave to have learned that lesson.”

As the 461st ACW’s celebrates its 10th anniversary, Hermes said he’s inspired by the accomplishments of the JSTARS aircraft and those who support it.

“Everyone in the 461st ACW does his or her own part to make this mission happen,” he said. “Everything that the aircraft has ever performed is an accumulation of effort from its people. In that same timeframe, the 461st ACW has been awarded six Meritorious Unit Awards, which is also a testament of how successful we have been on the battlefield.

“When I arrived at Robins, we were flying Block 10 aircraft, and this year, we finalized the Block 50 upgrade program,” Hermes said. “Furthermore, in the past 10 years, we have completed more than 22 major modernization programs totaling more than $288 million. As a platform, we have pushed the Air Force into the future. Without these efforts, concepts like Joint All-Domain Command and Control, also known as JADC2, would not be possible.”

JSTARS is one of the most upgraded platforms across the Air Force, Hermes said.

“Since 1996 when the first aircraft was delivered, it has been a process of building upon previous efforts and this will continue, even after JSTARS has met its service life,” he said. “All past and present members of the 461st ACW have built the wing and aircraft into what it is today.”

Hermes said without a doubt, Liberaiders will be the ones who build, mold, and evolve the wing into new capabilities and mission sets.

“I am honored to have had a front-row seat for a large majority of JSTARS’ accomplishments, and I could not be prouder to have served with all the Airmen who call themselves Liberaiders,” he said.