552nd ACW supports presidents' trip to South America

  • Published
  • By Darren D. Heusel
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Members of the 552nd Air Control Wing once again displayed their versatility as a wing and their ability to work as a team by supporting a recent presidential visit to South America.

The wing deployed two E-3 "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and two crews -- primarily from the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron -- to Montevideo, Uruguay, from March 21-28 to support President Barack Obama's travel to Argentina on March 24.

In addition to the two aircraft and crews, the 552nd ACW also sent 19 maintainers, one member of the 552nd Air Control Network Squadron to help with their ground-based radios, one Aircrew Flight Equipment expert, one squadron aviation resource manager, seven security forces personnel and an intelligence Airman from the 72nd Air Base Wing.

In all, 65 personnel were deployed in support of the operation, to include representatives from every squadron in the 552nd Operations Group.

According to Lt. Col. Kristen Thompson, 960th AACS commander, the mission planning, as well as the ground-based command and control for the mission was directed by members of the 552nd Operations Support Squadron's "Sled Dogs," who deployed with her.

The maintenance team was led by Capt. Tyler Olson, whom she referred to as "phenomenal."

"I just can't say enough good things about the tremendously hard work performed by our maintainers," she said. "They were an absolutely stellar team."

The seven 72nd ABW defenders, whom Colonel Thompson raved about as well, were on hand to provide security for the wing's two Protection Level 2 assets.

Maj. Nathan Jurgens, one of the Sled Dogs, who served as the mission planning cell chief, said the entire mission was a wing-level effort.

"The operators at the 960th AACS received tremendous support from maintenance and all the offices on base involved in deployments," he said.  "The short notice of the tasking, as well as the national importance of the mission, highlighted the wing's capacity to get the job done.

"It was awesome to see such wide collaboration on a single project," Major Jurgens added.

Colonel Thompson said the crews were tasked to provide low-altitude radar detection capability to the United States Secret Service in support of the President's movement while in Argentina.

In addition, Colonel Thompson said, they had three Argentine "host nation riders" accompany them on the E-3 "for mission execution."

"The expertise they provided was essential in ensuring the safe de-confliction of aircraft flying across Argentina in the vicinity of the two world leaders [President Obama and Argentine President Mauricio Macri]," she said.

All-in-all, Colonel Thompson said, "This mission was a complete team effort on behalf of the entire

552nd ACW. All three groups [552nd Operations Group, 552nd Maintenance Group and 552nd Air Control Group] worked together extensively to make this short-notice mission successful."

The colonel said the wing's ability to successfully take two E-3s and their crews on the road with maintenance and ACNS support was proven during the deployment.
"The detachment was able to successfully deploy to a country with minimal logistical support and ensure overall command and control and airborne early warning for this no-fail mission," she said.

Staff Sgt. Mark Piano, a flight engineer with the 960th AACS, said the POTUS support mission is one of the more important and unique missions the AWACS executes.
"Being able to directly support these missions allows for a nearly unlimited reach for the President to extend American diplomacy," he said.

In preparation for the mission, Colonel Thompson said, a small advance team deployed via C-17 several days early to prepare the airfield for E-3 operations. She said the advance team, led by Capt. Wes Wilson of the 960th AACS and Captain Olson of the 552nd MXG, was able to secure ramp space, fuel, transportation, lodging and all other operations and infrastructure required for the deployment.

She said the E-3 detachment was up and running when the aircraft and crews arrived several days later.

"Due to the nature of our wing's mission, our maintenance personnel are TDY all the time supporting the E-3," Captain Olson said. "And when this particular TDY came down, it was an exciting change of pace.

"This was the first time in over 20 years that a U.S. president visited Argentina with the sole purpose of recognizing and promoting their new president, while also improving our nation's presence and partnership with South America."

Captain Olson went on to say the mission itself was the only motivation his folks needed to perform their maintenance capabilities with the highest degree of excellence. He said it also allowed his Airmen an opportunity to serve as ambassadors for the U.S. by demonstrating professionalism, as they lived off the local economy.
"Some secondary effects of the mission we performed was improving our readiness capabilities in the 552nd ACW," Captain Olson added. "This really tested our ability to plan and execute our ability to pick up and relocate to an airport we knew nothing about, or what kind of support would be there once we landed."

He said not only did the Airmen who flew to Uruguay do a great job, but so did everyone else in the wing who helped coordinate with 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and Air Combat Command for their airlift and equipment, which paved the way for his personnel's arrival to a foreign country.

Colonel Thompson said the crews each flew a 12½-hour sortie from Tinker Air Force Base and refueled twice en route to the International Airport at Montevideo. She said they first refueled near Panama and then over international waters along the border of Peru and Chile for their second round of refueling, before crossing the continent en route to their destination.

Montevideo, she said, is the third most southern national capital in the world, "so their sortie proved to be very lengthy because they covered so much of the globe in flying to their destination."

Colonel Thompson said the POTUS support mission was flown two days later and was a resounding success.

"The crews supported a lengthy on-station time over Argentina and then returned to Montevideo," she said. "The two crews and their jets returned to Tinker the following day via a similar route and landed back at Tinker approximately 13 hours later."

Colonel Thompson said all the Airmen involved in the mission took great pride in its execution.

"It's been a long time since we've been tasked to support a mission of this tremendous magnitude," she said. "It was an honor to provide critical support to our senior leader and show to the world how vital America's Wing is to our national defense."