Gun fighting -- Island style

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin McFatridge
  • 388th Electronic Combat Squadron
All Gunfighters don't work at Mountain Home Air Force Base, or even live near an Air Force base for that matter. On the far side of Washington State at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, there is a group of Gunfighters living and working with the Navy flying the EA-6B Prowler.

For the 24 members of the 388th Electronic Combat Squadron, being a geographically separated unit of the 366th Operations Group is everyday business.

If you've never heard of the 388th ECS, you're not the only one. Even after 15 years of flying at Whidbey, more often than not we have to let people know who we are and where we're coming from when we get a chance to make it over to Mountain Home.

Air Force officers have been flying the EA-6B at Whidbey Island since 1995 after the Department of Defense decided to retire the EF-111 Raven and turn all tactical electronic attack responsibilities over to the Navy. The Navy needed more aircrew to fulfill the mission, and the Air Force had former EF-111 and F-4G Phantom aircrew available following the retirement of those airframes. Thus the Air Force would supply aircrew to the Navy, which allowed for the complete retirement of the EF-111, and more importantly, allowed the Air Force to maintain a small cadre of experienced electronic combat aircrew.

Through the years, though there have been numerous changes, the basic support of the mission has remained the same. The squadron initially stood up as a detachment of Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., in 1995, but transitioned to a detachment of the 366th OG from Mountain Home in 1997 where it remained a detachment until 2003, when it was once again re-designated the 388th ECS "Griffins" -- resurrecting the heritage of the EF-111 squadron that had been assigned to Mountain Home in the early 1980s.

For the first eight years of existence, both pilots and electronic warfare officers were assigned to Whidbey Island, but after 2003 Air Force pilots were transitioned out, leaving only EWOs. Throughout the history of the joint program, numerous platforms have been represented in the squadron, including EF-111, F-4G, F-15C, F-15E, F-16, A-10, B-1, B-52, RC-135, EC-130, AC-130 and RQ-1.

Members of the squadron are attached to one of three, land-based Expeditionary EA-6B squadrons, and are totally integrated into their Navy squadrons, fulfilling all the jobs their Navy counterparts do, including serving as department heads and administration or maintenance division officers providing them with unique opportunities they would not have in Air Force squadrons. The expeditionary squadrons have supported every contingency operation since 1996, including Operation Northern Watch, Operation Southern Watch, Desert Fox and Allied Force. Since 2002, there have been members of the 388th ECS deployed continuously supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from bases within Afghanistan and Iraq.

For the approximately 120 Griffins past and present, the opportunity to support the war fighters of all services, as well as our coalition partners, as the only remaining tactical electronic warfare platform in the Air Force is worth the anonymity.