Celebrating the legacy of the 'Herd'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Smail
  • 3rd Combat Communications Group deputy commander
The unit shield is unmistakable, a sword intersected with four lightning bolts and the words "Live by the Sword" emblazoned underneath.

When the mantra "Anytime, Anywhere" is exclaimed by 721 combat communicators, it motivates every occupant in any auditorium, parade field or convention hall.
The 3rd Combat Communications Group, affectionately known as the "3rd Herd," has lived by, and lived up to, these slogans for almost six decades as the one of the premier combat communications units in the Air Force.

Now, a new chapter in Air Force combat communications is being written as the service aligns and transforms its deployable communications capability with Air Force core competencies and capabilities required by a new defense strategy and constrained by a new fiscal environment. By prioritizing readiness over force structure, the Air Force announced in March 2012 that it will inactivate the 3rd CCG -- one of its two active duty combat communications groups -- effective June 2013. The inactivation will be complete by Sept. 30.

The Air Force will transform its ability to employ combat communications by posturing to seamlessly extend cyberspace, provide robust network operations and deliver resilient defense-in-depth to counter adversaries. Ultimately, the changes will result in a lighter, leaner and more capable combat communications force to support homeland defense operations, humanitarian support missions and overseas contingency operations.
While a bittersweet event to the many warriors who have passed through this storied unit, the Air Force will continue to provide combat communications through its other active duty combat communications units, the 5th Combat Communications Group, or the "5th Mob" located at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., the 1st Combat Communications Squadron in Germany and the 644th Combat Communications Squadron in Guam.

Since its inception, the 3rd Herd has continually supported theater and combatant commanders with deployable communications and systems. During the early part of its existence, air traffic control services were a significant portion of the group's mission/capability. As the expansion and importance of modern communications and networks progressed, the emphasis of the group moved toward providing core communications services and connectivity to the Global Information Grid in a deployed environment. Irrespective of the technology employed, personnel and equipment from the 3rd CCG have been on standby for immediate deployment for more than five decades. They have stood ready to deploy experts in networks, telephony, radio, satellite communications, radar, navigation systems, air traffic control, vehicle maintenance/operations, logistics, power production, and heating, ventilation and cooling.

The men and women of the 3rd Herd have distinguished themselves in every major military conflict and humanitarian operation the United States has been involved in since the 1950s -- from operations in Vietnam to closing the final bases in Iraq during Operation New Dawn. While inactivating and leaving the responsibility of providing world-class combat communications and deployable air traffic control and landing systems services to the remaining combat communications units, it is appropriate to recognize some of the historic achievements of the 3rd Herd during the past 55 years.

Herdsman have deployed across the world to provide communications support to numerous military contingencies including the following Operations: Urgent Fury (Grenada), Eagle Look (Southwest Asia), Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Southwest Asia), Southern Watch (Southwest Asia), Desert Calm (Southwest Asia), Desert Focus/Strike (Southwest Asia), Provide Comfort/ Northern Watch (Turkey), Restore Hope (Somalia), Uphold Democracy (Haiti), Provide Promise/Deny Flight (Italy, Croatia), Joint Endeavor/Guard (Bosnia, Italy, Croatia), New Horizons (Peru), Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and New Dawn (Iraq).

Initial operations were critical to the Cold War strategy of containment and supporting 3rd Air Force in Europe as the backstop against the Soviet Union. As the unit transitioned to Tinker Air Force Base in 1964, the mission evolved to deploy in the U.S. or abroad to support combat and humanitarian operations or provide emergency restoral of services.
By 1967, military use of satellites became a reality. In November 1968, under a project called the Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program, the then-3rd Mobile Communications Group proved the feasibility of the first mobile ground satellite communications terminal, a capability which combat communications units cannot operate without today. Located at Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, the terminal had a broad reception and transmission range and was symbiotic with the global nature of the group. In following years, the 3rd would become experts on deployable satellite terminals and employ various types and sizes to provide command and control, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that have become integral to Air Force operations.

During Vietnam, the 3rd assisted the Republic of Vietnam air rorce in developing a command and control system at Tan Son NHUT Air Base and fielded the required communications networks to support it. Called the Tactical Air Control System, the system handled the flow of aircraft from takeoff to target area, and return to the base it was launched from, assuring positive control of all areas where significant combat operations were performed.

After Vietnam, combat communications, and the rest of the Air Force, went through a period of reduced operations and deployments. However, the Cold War was still ongoing and the U.S. would once again call upon the 3rd CCG. In 1983, the government of Grenada, with assistance from Cuba and the Soviet Union, established another communist stronghold in the western hemisphere. Following the execution of Grenada's self-proclaimed prime minister, President Ronald Reagan feared that the 1,000 U.S. citizens on the island were in danger and ordered Operation Urgent Fury in October 1983. The 3rd Herd rapidly responded and deployed to Grenada, providing satellite and intra-base radio communications to the Airlift Control Center at Point Salines Airport during the rescue operation. Although there were many successes and the 3rd CCG support was stellar, inter-service communications suffered and were highlighted to the U.S. Congress that more attention was needed to improve joint operations in future engagements.

In 1990, the 3rd Herd deployed to the sands of Saudi Arabia and Oman during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The group provided the full range of ATCALS and communications across the theater as the U.S. quickly deployed more than 500,000 Airmen to Southwest Asia. Establishing one of the two major satellite communications hubs in Thumrait, Oman, the 31st Combat Communications Squadron proved critical to ensuring one of the most complex contingency network architectures ever built succeeded in connecting the flying wings to the air operations center and delivering the air tasking order, critical to synchronizing complex air combat operations.

The 3rd CCG's motto is "Anytime, Anywhere" and over the years the group provided support to numerous humanitarian operations -- delivering critical communications and civil engineering when and where its country needed it. Deployments have included support for tornado recovery, hurricane cleanup, the 1980 Mt. Saint Helens volcano eruption, and even avalanche recovery operations in Alaska. Closer to home, the 3rd Herd supported Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when one of their own, Airman 1st Class Cartney McRaven of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron, lost her life during the terrorist attack. As always, the unit quickly responded and provided critical power, radio and life support to rescue operations.

One of the most far-reaching humanitarian operations occurred in August 2005, when the 31st Combat Communications Squadron responded for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief operations. Immediately following the hurricane, 3rd Herders embarked on a grueling 36-hour convoy to New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport. There, the 3rd CCG provided the 4th Air Expeditionary Group with vital command and control communications that enabled the rapid restoration of law and order in New Orleans as well as the rescue and evacuation of hurricane victims.

From 1957 to 2012, the 3rd Herd has provided excellent communications and air traffic control services in defense of the nation. The group has enabled the Air Force to provide global reach and global strike through its expeditionary forces. Although the Herd is inactivating, the spirit, camaraderie and excellence will live on through its former members' past, and those yet to serve. From the activation of communications sites in a hostile combat zone to local humanitarian support, the Herd has performed its missions flawlessly. Everyday Airmen performing tasks, ready to go anytime, anywhere -- that is the Herd legacy.

The group has planned a Heritage Celebration for May 30-31. For details, visit www.3dHerd.com.