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Tinker Airmen resume Sentry in Southwest Asia

An Airman from the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron marshals the first of several aircraft out of its parking spot and on its way to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom March 28 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

An Airman from the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron marshals the first of several aircraft out of its parking spot and on its way to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom March 28 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNEWS) -- Airmen of the 552nd Air Control Wing here deployed to support operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom at the end of March after a four-year hiatus from being in Southwest Asia.

The last time Tinker AFB E-3 Sentrys deployed for OEF was 10 days after 9/11, and by October 2002 crews of the 552nd ACW reached 10,000 flying hours in support of OEF. 

"This is a long awaited return of the E-3 to the (area of responsibility)," said Brig. Gen. James M. Kowalski, the 552nd ACW commander. "No weapons system has spent more time in the area, and we have to make sure our reputation of stellar performance is maintained. This is a very big deal, and I wish I was going with them. We have always trained like we fight -- now we fight like we trained."

The mission of the E-3 and its crews while deployed will remain the same: Allow theater commanders to see the real-time air, ground and sea picture of any battle space, which allows commanders to make decisions based on timely and accurate information.

"This is what we have always been working toward," said Maj. Timothy Hart, a 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron mission crew commander. "Every mission, every exercise is used to get us ready for supporting OEF and OIF."

"I've been over there about 14 times -- for (pperations) Northern Watch, Southern Watch, OEF, OIF -- and every time it's different," said Lt. Col. Kenny Knistern of the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron. "Even though the AOR mission might be different, our mission of performing outstanding air surveillance remains the same."

The return of Airmen and aircraft to Tinker AFB in 2003 ended a 13-year continuous presence in the region. For the first time in the 25-year history of the E-3, all 28 aircraft were at home station. But now, the E-3 once again deploys overseas to support the war on terrorism. 

Final tallies for both OEF and OIF were robust: For OEF, Airmen flew more than 1,280 sorties conducting air surveillance - totaling 15,700 flight hours. OIF crews flew missions from March 19 to June 8, 2003, during which they flew 313 sorties - totaling 3,115 hours.

In all, E-3 crews provided 24-hour surveillance of OIF and OEF battle space, with Airmen flying more than 1,593 sorties and clocking 18,815 hours. Then, between May 28 and June 8, 2003, 552nd ACW Airmen deployed in support of OEF and OIF returned to Tinker AFB.

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