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Kandahar's Liberty operations reach end of mission

A pilot with the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepares for takeoff Aug. 20, 2014, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The squadron reached its end of mission in September after four years of operations in Afghanistan. During their tenure, the unit executed more than 25,000 air tasking order sorties, achieved 115,000 combat flight hours and helped eliminate 450 insurgents from the battle space. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)

A pilot with the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepares for takeoff Aug. 20, 2014, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The squadron reached its end of mission in September after four years of operations in Afghanistan. During their tenure, the unit executed more than 25,000 air tasking order sorties, achieved 115,000 combat flight hours and helped eliminate 450 insurgents from the battle space. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)

An Airman with the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron inspects an MC-12W Liberty Aug. 20, 2014, before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The squadron reached its end of mission in September after four years of operations in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)

An Airman with the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron inspects an MC-12W Liberty Aug. 20, 2014, before a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The squadron reached its end of mission in September after four years of operations in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- After four years of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron will complete their MC-12W Liberty operations in southern Afghanistan at the beginning of September 2014.

The squadron was activated here in May 2010, and contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom by providing real-time ISR throughout southern Afghanistan. Missions included convoy overwatch, geographic locating of high-value targets, and services for various forward operating bases and ground units in the area.

"Over the course of the last four years, we have had quite of few major impacts on the enemy infrastructure," said Master Sgt. Shawn Cochran, the 361st ERS operations superintendent. "We have made major contributions as far as bringing safety and security to our ground forces."

During the squadron's time in theater, the crews executed more than 25,000 air tasking order sorties, flew 115,000 combat flight hours, helped eliminate 450 insurgents from the battle space, provided overwatch for more than 50,000 friendly forces and scanned approximately 13,000 kilometers of roads supporting ground forces outside the wire.

According to Lt. Col. James Mansard, the 361st ERS commander, the MC-12W impact to OEF has helped save lives and support coalition objectives.

Contributions to the mission have not only come from the Airmen, but also from the contracted maintenance support that allowed the unit to experience a 99 percent mission effectiveness rate by keeping the aircraft in the air.

The success of the unit's accomplishments has not been an easy journey, and according to Mansard, the Airmen in the unit have sacrificed a lot of time away from their family as they deploy every six months.

"The effects we brought to the battle space were not without sacrifice," Mansard said. "The Airmen who have touched this program have dedicated a huge amount of their lives. Their families have made sacrifices for them to be here and operate. We have people here that haven't seen a summer vacation back home for over four years, a lot of sacrifice and commitment has gone into this program."

As the Kandahar MC-12W’s mission comes to an end and the unit's members return to their families, NATO forces will remain behind to continue the mission.

"We have contributed to International Security Assistance Force's and our nation's success, however we know business isn't done yet," Mansard said. "When we depart, some American and NATO forces will remain behind to execute that mission. We have been successful and enjoyed being part of the team, the bittersweet part is that the mission doesn't end just because the unit departs."

With the unit's unique mission and major impacts during the last four years, members of the 361 ERS said they feel a sense of accomplishment in having been part of the ISR mission in Afghanistan.

"I enjoyed what my impact to the mission here was," Cochran said. "We had great success, I know we helped eliminate threats and made life safer for ground force troops. I feel very confident on what we contributed and importance of the safety we brought to those around us."

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