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RPA community launches 65th combat air patrol

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- The Remotely Piloted Aircraft enterprise reached new heights as the community pulled together to launch the 65th combat air patrol, or CAP, here on May 28.

Reaching 65 patrols by fiscal year 2013 was an initiative put in place by then former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Dec. 23, 2009.

The constant growth of patrols, from 33 in 2008 to 65 in 2014, is just one example of the untapped capabilities of the RPA platform and provides insight into where the future of the program can go.

"This feat illustrates the professionalism of our Airmen, and the hard work and dedication they have for the mission 24/7, 365 days a year, in order to ensure the safety of ground forces across the globe," said Col. James Cluff, the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

Reaching this milestone means the RPA community has almost doubled the amount of assets available for intelligence gathering, while also safeguarding more deployed service members.

"This represents a series of extraordinary sacrifices by Airmen across the RPA enterprise," said Lt. Col. Cameron,  the former 42nd Attack Squadron commander. "A few short years ago, many thought this goal was unattainable."

Each CAP covers a specific area of operations, requiring multiple aircraft and up to 180 people, such as maintainers, communications experts, pilots, sensor operators, and intelligence Airmen, to operate successfully.

"I am able to provide constant vigilant support for the men and women (deployed overseas), said Capt. Andrew, an 18th Reconnaissance Squadron pilot. "We watch over them as they bed down for the night and make sure no threats are pushing them. It's a gratifying feeling."

The aircrew members who worked together to make the CAP possible were hand-picked by commanders from each unit that participated in the flight.

"I was honored to be selected for this goal-setting mission," said 1st Lt. Erick, a 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron pilot. "I think I speak for all 18X (Air Force Specialty Code prefix for RPA pilots) pilots when I say that we are ready and willing to take on the responsibility of moving the RPA community forward, and this launch exemplifies that sentiment.

"We couldn't have accomplished our goal without the tireless work of maintainers, communications personnel, and all the other Airmen involved in this sortie, especially our 42nd Attack Squadron brothers and sisters back home," Erick said.

Mission success on the communications side of the operation relies heavily on experienced, expertly trained personnel to ensure all systems are working correctly. That capability is provided by the 432nd Aircraft Communications Maintenance Squadron, which is responsible for maintaining the ground control stations, or GCS, from which pilots and sensor operators fly RPA missions.

Airman 1st Class Ryder Luzadder, 432nd ACMS communications technician, was one of the Airmen who ensured the GCS was prepared and ready to fly the 65th patrol.

"If we don't do our job exactly, it could mean that the mission is canceled, or in a worst case scenario an aircraft could crash," Luzadder said. "It takes about one year of on-the-job training to be able to do any task that we are presented with. There are always new things that pop up all the time that you just don't expect. We're unique from other communications Airmen because we see the missions that are flying worldwide every day. We play a direct role in the effort to save lives."

Meeting the initiative was no easy task and was made possible by a whole-team effort across the board.

"This is a culmination of an Air Force-wide effort to achieve (former) Secretary of Defense (Robert M.) Gates' initiative of 65 combat air patrols," said Col. James Chittenden, 432nd Wing and 432nd AEW vice commander. "We are incredibly proud of the Airmen of the 432nd AEW and their critical service to our nation's security."