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Former 552nd ACW commander reflects on wing history

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Maj. Gen. Lori J. Robinson made history when she became the first female to command the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base in May 2007.

The former wing commander has blazed a trail her entire career and continues to be a trend-setter even today, as she currently serves as the deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command and deputy to the Combined Force Air Component commander for U.S. Central Command in Southwest Asia.

Because of her current duties, General Robinson will be unable to attend the 552nd ACW's Heritage Celebration scheduled for Oct. 25-27. But she will no doubt be there in spirit.

Though General Robinson wasn't in the Air Force when the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing was first activated at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., on July 8, 1955, she has spent a good portion of her career in the wing and knows all about its heritage.

General Robinson served as an Air Weapons Controller on the E-3 "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from August 1992 - May 1993; as Chief of the Weapons and Tactics Branch for the 965th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron from June 1993 to June 1994; as commander of the 552nd Operations Group from June 2002 to August 2004; and as wing commander from May 2007 to August 2008.

Since its inception 57 years ago, the men and women of the 552nd ACW have been involved in every major operation the United States has conducted, from Vietnam to the Global War on Terror, and all sorties in between, which is probably how it earned the nickname "America's Wing."

And for most of that, General Robinson has been there and gotten the T-shirt.
The theme for the three-day heritage event is, "Paying tribute to our past, honoring our present and celebrating the future!" According to wing officials, the event will provide an opportunity for the 552nd ACW and local community partners to come together and embrace the wing's 57-year history and unmatched community partnership the wing enjoys today.

"As an Airman, it is critically important to celebrate the heritage of any unit, to understand the roots of the unit, and to celebrate its contributions to our Air Force," General Robinson wrote via e-mail from Southwest Asia. "As a former commander, and understanding the tempo of the 552nd ACW, I think that it is even more important to stop for a moment, continue to remind people the heritage of the 552nd, to teach new Airman about the proud past of the 552nd, so when they fly today they will understand the shoulders they are standing on.

"The unique missions that the 552nd ACW has been a part of are unlike any other, and to learn about them makes the current Airmen even prouder than they are," General Robinson continued.

As the former commander, the general noted her fondest memories were times that wing personnel were celebrating the accomplishments of their fellow Airmen.

"Whether it was the monthly enlisted promotion ceremony, squadron patch-on ceremonies, Team Tinker quarterly awards with our downtown partners, these events always held a special place in my heart," she wrote. "You knew how hard the Airmen worked to achieve these accomplishments, and it was just phenomenal to see them, their families and the entire wing celebrate."

General Robinson expressed what she enjoyed most about being the 552nd ACW commander was the opportunity to provide space so the groups and squadrons could execute the mission, and taking care of the Airmen and their families.
As such, she added her time in the 552nd ACW has prepared her well for her current mission.

"Over my four opportunities to be stationed at the 552nd ACW, I have learned about the tactical and operational level of war," General Robinson wrote. "Because the AWACs operates in both of those domains, as an Air Battle Manager controlling missions, then as a Mission Crew Commander understanding the bigger battle space, it has provided me with the background to be the Deputy CFACC.

"Additionally, as an ABM, I understand command and control. That is instrumental in this job."

The Heritage Celebration will kick off Thursday, Oct. 25 with a static tour of the E-3 Block 40/45 upgrade for members of the 552nd ACW, the 513th Air Control Group and their spouses.

On Friday, Oct. 26, the wing will host their quarterly awards breakfast, followed by a 552nd ACW unclassified mission brief and tours of the maintenance shops, flight simulator and legacy mission simulator, and Block 40/45 static demonstration for off-base guests only.

Also on Oct. 26, members of the Airborne Early Warning Association will be hosting their semi-annual luncheon at the Tinker Club to coincide with the event, followed by a discussion panel at the Base Theater and an "old meets new" icebreaker at the club
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The event will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 27 with an AWACS park dedication in the morning on Sooner Road south of S.E. 29th Street across the street from the Vance Gate, a 5K run/walk, and dinner that evening at the Oklahoma City Marriott, located on Northwest Expressway.

According to Belinda Journey, 552nd ACW protocol chief and one of the main organizers of the event, the idea to host a wing Heritage Celebration stemmed from discussions held last year to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the E-3 and "just kind of grew from there."

"A lot of people in the wing don't understand what goes on in the next squadron over," Mrs. Journey said. "So, this is as much about educating our own people as much as anything. That's what a lot of our Friday events are for - to educate as well as celebrate."

Mrs. Journey added that participants will include wing members, Sentry civic supporters, retirees, business owners, elected officials and honorary commanders, among others.
"If nothing else, we want our wing members to be able to walk a little taller and our community leaders to gain a better understanding of our mission and the men and women who perform that unique mission day in and day out," she said.