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Relocation brings ISR cryptologic operator training, aircraft together again

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- The 306th Intelligence Squadron made a big move March 6, 2017, from sunny California to the Sooner State.

The move, to Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, Oklahoma, aligns with Air Force Special Operations’ effort to colocate the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance active-duty training mission with Air National Guard operational aircraft, said Col. Michael Stevenson, the 363rd ISR Wing commander.

“This is yet another example of the strong partnership AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command) has with ACC (Air Combat Command) and the 361 ISRG (Group),” said Col. Alexander Merz, the AFSOC ISR director. “The relocation of 306 IS (Intelligence Squadron) from Beale to Will Rogers positions active-duty training for SOF (Special Operations Forces) airborne ISR analysts with our 137 SOW (Special Operations Wing) Guard partners who fly SOF ISR platforms and also conduct Joint Terminal Attack Controller training for ACC.”
“It is an ideal arrangement that will improve training and tactics development, and ultimately strengthen our ISR and strike enterprise in the years to come,” Merz said.

Previously a unit under the Air National Guard, the 306th IS became part of the active Air Force again Oct. 5, 2012, at Beale Air Force Base, California. The squadron originated as the 6306th Reconnaissance Technical Flight in 1953 and operated for nearly 50 years as a photo reconnaissance unit, said Col. Matthew Atkins, the 361st ISR Group commander.

The 306th IS personnel were the back-end cryptologic operators for the MC-12W Liberty aircraft program when it was stationed at Beale AFB, he said.

“They did the training and deployments in the thousands of sorties,” said Atkins. “In 2012, the Air Force established its FTU (formal training unit) for (airborne cryptologists); essentially the schoolhouse that taught the basics.”
All airborne cryptologists destined for light ISR aircraft flowed through Beale AFB, and then they were sent out for SOF or MC-12W missions, Atkins said.

“The 306th deployed hundreds of Airmen to combat over Afghanistan and Iraq,” Atkins said, recalling Staff Sgt. Richard Dickson of the 306th who made the ultimate sacrifice when his MC-12W call sign “INDY 08” went down in Afghanistan.

In 2014, the Air Force ended the MC-12W program and all the planes transferred to AFSOC, Atkins said. “Thirteen of them ended up at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City under the newly-formed 137th SOW. It is an Air National Guard unit under AFSOC, and it flies the MC-12Ws.”

So, the aircraft in Oklahoma are the same ones used previously at Beale, and this move will bring the Airmen and aircraft back together.

The approval process for moving the 306th IS to Oklahoma began several years ago, and the Secretary of the Air Force approved the move in January 2016, Atkins said.

“It has always been our intention to co-locate our Airmen with SOF light ISR platforms so they can teach and qualify airborne ISR operator students. Will Rogers ANGB provides an excellent training environment, and our partnership with the Guard is very strong,” he said.

“We have been moving 306th (IS) airmen, and other instructors and evaluators, from across the 361st (ISRG) to stand up the schoolhouse at Oklahoma City,” Atkins said. “Now, the 306th (IS) will be the squadron that handles all the training for SOF airborne cryptologists.”

On March 3, Atkins traveled to California to deactivate the squadron and case the colors in front of the INDY 08 memorial. He then flew to Oklahoma City to activate the 306th IS on March 6, handing the guidon to its new commander, Lt. Col. Steve McFadden.