AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNEWS) --
A small contingent of four communications Airmen traveled to Al Asad Air Base to provide communication connectivity while base facilities were being built around them.
"The day we got here, there were no radios, only a couple computers and no telephones installed anywhere," said Staff Sgt. Sean Mallery, deployed to the 438th Air Expeditionary Group from the 47th Communications Squadron at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
"As soon as our feet hit the ground, we began working with the equipment we had on hand, started ordering more of what would be needed, and preparing for the incoming aircraft to get here," the sergeant said.
The 438th AEG activated Jan. 15 under the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB, Iraq, to provide close-air support to coalition forces in the region. Within hours of standing up as a fully operational A-10 Thunderbolt II unit, it was sending its aircraft into battle. But before any of that could happen, their facilities would need to be built and prepared for combat operations.
Since activating, the group has flown 820 combat sorties, 2,648 flying hours, and provided close-air support to ground troops in some of the most challenging urban terrain in places such as Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad and Baquba, overcoming communications jams and remaining focused and vigilant.
With the addition of the A-10s, the 332nd AEW now has five primary aircraft in its inventory, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-130 Hercules, MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, and the HH-60 Pave Hawk. The addition of the A-10 has increased the wing's role in providing precision weapons and sensors employment against anti-Iraqi forces.
"By the time the Warthogs got here, we had programmed and encrypted about 50 hand-held radios, two air-to-ground radios and three secure telephones. Every office had a telephone, and computers were set up in an almost 'one-for-one' (computer per person) at work stations for arriving personnel in the group's standup," Sergeant Mallery said.
"When we got here, there was no Air Force comms whatsoever," he said. "Now we've got a completely working AEG that's doing its job every single day, and we've even got backup equipment on standby. It's rewarding to know the part I play is contributing to the overall effort to stop terror in the world. If I had the chance to do it all over, I wouldn't change a thing."
"I got here at the end of December," said Master Sgt. Mike Rosado, the NCO in charge of the expeditionary radio unit deployed from the 305th Communications Squadron at McGuire AFB, N.J. "Over the next few weeks after our getting here, (the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron) put up all the wooden structures, and we were laying cables for the unit's communication infrastructure."
The 438th AEG is a tenant unit to the host 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"The Marines have been very helpful to us, loaning us much-needed equipment and assisting us in frequency deconfliction," he said. "In return, we consulted with them on their trunking system, helping them understand just exactly what they had and what it was capable of."
Unit members were discussing a possible memorandum of agreement to add equipment to their system giving both increased communications capabilities across the base.
The Marines have also been helping with network configurations. The 2nd MAW's G-6, their Electronic Key Management Systems office and the Marine's Regimental Combat Team-2 assisted the Air Force in laying the groundwork for the (situational awareness datalink) system which should be installed very soon. "It will allow our pilots to more easily identify friend or foe on their missions," the sergeant said, "and allow senior leaders a means of tracking pilots' positions while on combat sorties through the Link-16 system, or (Tactical Digital Information Link)."
"It feels great knowing the comms we provide is able to allow our pilots to turn out the results senior leaders expect," Sergeant Rosado said. "It's all about reliable and secure communications."
"The level of cooperation and support (the Marines) provided has been simply outstanding," said Capt. John Barr, the communications flight commander deployed from Air Mobility Command at Scott AFB, Ill. "It's enabled us to go through an entire (air expeditionary force) without missing a combat sortie due to communications issues. That's critical to the success of our mission here to provide Marines and Soldiers on the ground and oftentimes in contact with the enemy close-air support."
"For a brand new AEG, from when you stood up in January until now, you've accomplished your mission in the proud and professional manner that is your legacy as Tuskegee Airmen," said Brig. Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of the 332nd AEW headquartered at Balad AB.
(Master Sgt. Bryan Ripple of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs contributed to this story.)
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