TACAMO mission evolves to support war operations

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kasey Bruce, Task Force 124, performs routine maintenance on an E-6B Mercury prior to its flight over Iraq. Petty Officer Bruce is deployed here from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (Photo by Senior Airman Clark Staehle)

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kasey Bruce, Task Force 124, performs routine maintenance on an E-6B Mercury prior to its flight over Iraq. Petty Officer Bruce is deployed here from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (Photo by Senior Airman Clark Staehle)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- Some people might say you can't teach old dogs new tricks, but they've probably never met the Sailors who make up Task Force 124 in Baghdad, Iraq.
   The men and women with the Navy who comprise the unit here fly and operate an E-6B Mercury in support of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen on the ground in and around Baghdad.
   "Our role here is basically as a convoy relay," said Lt. j.g. Amy Simek, TF-124 battle staff mission commander, a Tempe, Ariz., native. "When the convoys are moving and they can't get a hold of someone to report something or even perform a radio check, they can contact us. Because we're so high in the air we have a greater line of sight and therefore can communicate with all convoys and reporting authorities."
   One of the things that make the Mercury's mission here unique is the transformation of its role to support the Global War on Terrorism.
   The Mercury's role was tailored from its original mission to fit the needs of the Global War on Terrorism. The Mercury was originally developed for its role in nuclear war, which became known as "Take Charge And Move Out," or TACAMO.
   "This plane was built for the Cold War," said Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey Penington, TF-124 and Great Falls, Mont., native. "It serves as the link between the national decision makers and the nuclear triad."
   The nuclear triad is a nation's guard against nuclear war and is comprised of submarines, bombers and missiles.
   To help communicate to those units over long distances, the plane uses a pair of wires which trail out the back of the plane. A short wire broadcasts the signal, which bounces off a longer 25,000-foot wire, amplifying it at a very low frequency. These antennas allow the battle staff on the plane to communicate with strategic nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.
   After U.S. troops began fighting in Baghdad, it became apparent their line-of-sight radios didn't have the kind of power the servicemembers needed to communicate with each other. That's where the TACAMO's crew came in. 
   Navy officials realized that with the installation of a few extra radios and the removal of some of its most sensitive equipment, they could help fill the communication gap between servicemembers on the ground.
   The crews fly the plane in orbits daily over Iraq. The crew also shares the duty with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to ensure 24-hour coverage. The 777th EAS flies C-130 aircraft, configured with similar capabilities.
   "It feels good to be doing something that you see the benefits of immediately," Lt. Simek said. "With nuclear deterrence, you don't really see the benefits as easily. With this, we see the benefits automatically. Every night we get a call, every night we're helping somebody."
   Task Force 124 has about 40 Sailors here, comprised of about 20 aircrew and 20 maintainers, all of whom share the single plane stationed here. Each Sailor with the crew is deployed here from Tinker.