552nd makes history repeat itself with return to OEF, OIF

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla -- Airmen in the 552nd Air Control Wing received orders to deploy for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom after a four-year hiatus. 

"This is a long awaited return of the E-3 to the AOR (area of responsibility)," said Brig. Gen. James M. Kowalski, 552nd ACW commander. "No weapons system has spent more time in the area, and we have to make sure our reputation of stellar performance is maintained. This is a very big deal, and I wish I was going with them. We have always trained like we fight - now we fight like we trained." 

The mission of the E-3 Sentry and its crews while deployed will remain the same: allow theater commanders to see the real-time air, ground and sea picture of any battle space, which allows commanders to make decisions based on timely and accurate information. 

"This is what we have always been working towards," said Maj. Timothy Hart, 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron mission crew commander. "Every mission, every exercise is used to get us ready for supporting OEF and OIF. And I can't wait to get over there!" 

The last time the E-3 deployed for OEF was 10 days after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. By October of 2002, crews of the 552nd reached a significant milestone - logging 10,000 flying hours in support of OEF. 

Final tallies for both OEF and OIF were robust: For OEF, Airmen flew more than 1,280 sorties conducting air surveillance - totaling 15,700 flight hours. OIF crews flew missions from March 19 to June 8, 2003, during which they flew 313 sorties - totaling 3,115 hours. 

In total, Sentry crews had provided 24-hour surveillance of OIF and OEF battle space, with Airmen flying more than 1,593 sorties and clocking 18,815 hours. Then, between May 28 and June 8, 2003, 552nd ACW personnel deployed in support of OEF and OIF returned to home station at Tinker. 

"I've been over there about 14 times - for (Operations) Northern Watch, Southern Watch, OEF, OIF - and every time it's different," said Lt. Col. Kenny Knistern, 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron MCC. "Even though the AOR mission might be different, our mission of performing outstanding air surveillance remains the same." 

The return of personnel and aircraft to Tinker in 2003 ended a 13-year continuous presence in the region. For the first time in the 25-year history of the E-3, all 28 aircraft were at home station. But now, the Sentry once again deploys overseas to support the Global War on Terror - and the Airmen of the 552nd have big shoes to fill. 

"Our past missions have established our reputation as an exceptional unit," said General Kowalski. "What AWACS does over there now will only serve to once again show our Airmen as true professionals. This is very significant moment in our history - it's up to us to make it a great one."